International Women’s Day: Understanding Women’s Mental Health

International Women's Day 2019: Understanding Women's Health

International Women’s Day is marked each year on March 8. This year’s theme is #BalanceForBetter, and as we observe this day, it is only prudent that we address women’s mental health. With more clarity about women’s mental health, it is then possible to address women’s needs in a better way.

There is no health without mental health. In marking International Women’s Day, this provides an excellent chance to address the difference between men and women as far as mental health is concerned.

Gender and Women’s Mental Health

Mental illness affects both men and women, often interfering with one’s ability to lead a full life. While the general rates of mental illness are similar for men and women, there are unique gender-based differences in terms of how the mental illnesses manifest.

According to a report by WHO, gender is a key factor in mental health. Over the years, the significant burden of mental illness has been highlighted more that the gender-specific factors surrounding the same.

Read More: #PPDMyStory – One Kenyan Mom’s story and how she got help

Gender is a critical element because it establishes the differences between men’s and women’s control over their vulnerability to particular mental health risks. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rates of common mental illnesses – anxiety, depression and psychosomatic symptoms.

Gender differences in terms of mental illness

Research shows that the three common mental illnesses affect 1 in every 3 people. Depression for instance, is twice as common in women as it is in men. There is a reason for this – the symptoms of depression and anxiety are directly related to interlinked factors. These factors include gender-based roles, societal expectations and life stressors.

To put this in perspective, consider the following gender specific risks that affect more women than they do men:

  • Gender Based Violence (GBV)
  • Sexual violence
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Poor pay (and in light of this, the global pay gap between men and women)
  • Pregnancy and complications arising thereof

Read More: Postpartum PTSD: When moms experience trauma during childbirth

It is important to clarify that this is not a battle between men and women. We cannot be blind to the fact in Kenya, men are more likely to die by suicide than women. A survey carried out by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicates that 421 cases of suicide were reported in 2017. Out of these cases, 330 of the suicides reported were by men.

Why the gender-based differences in terms of mental health?

The fact that most women take up responsibilities in caring for families and running their households seems to contribute significantly to this gender-based difference. For some, this comes at a steep cost when you consider the time and energy that goes into running households, a labour which, for the most part goes unpaid. This takes a huge toll on women’s mental health and financial status.

Read More: The Invisibleness of Stay-At-Home Motherhood

Add to this some of the challenges that women face at the workplace, particularly in male-dominated fields and it is easy to see the need for gender equality. But this does not, and should not take away from the need to promote women’s mental health.

How can women take care of their mental health?

As we celebrate International Women’s Day under the theme #BalanceForBetter, it is an opportune reminder that behind every woman playing her role in society, is a human being whose physical, emotional and mental well-being matters. Mental health is at the core of our well-being.

Below are some tips to help care for your mental health.

Take care of your physical health

Poor physical health increases the risk of mental illness. This is why mental health and physical health should not be thought of as separate entities. What is good for the body is good for the mind. Make sure to have a balanced diet, get adequate sleep and engage in physical activity.

Maintain healthy supportive relationships

Maintaining healthy relationships is key to a woman’s mental wellbeing. These relationships not only offer support, they also provide much needed stability in the midst of life’s daily challenges.

Create boundaries

Societal expectations placed on women sometimes make it difficult to draw a distinction between different aspects of life. To improve your mental health, it is important to create boundaries between your professional and home life. This allows you to plug into your social networks and enjoy interests outside the workplace and at home.

Practice selfcare

It is said that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first before taking care of others. Whether that is staying indoors over the weekend, practising affirmations, cutting out toxic friendships or simply unplugging from the internet. Read More on selfcare here.

Be aware of the symptoms of mental illness

Awareness is an important part of caring for your mental health. Knowing what symptoms to look out for is key to help with your mental wellbeing, especially because one’s mental health will vary throughout their life.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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