Women’s mental wellbeing

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Happy International Women’s Day 2016! The impact of mental health difficulties are felt equally by men and women. However, in this article, MyMind intern Fiona Kerrigan looks at mental health issues that commonly affect women and the factors that can contribute to them.

Today, the 8th of March, we celebrate International Women’s Day 2016. Over 100 years ago, in 1908, 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York in order to stand up for their rights. This marked the beginning of the tradition that is International Women’s Day.

Women’s rights in Ireland have come a long way in recent years. Unlike in the 1970s, Irish women can now keep their jobs in the public service after marriage, sit on a jury, purchase contraceptives and own their own home.

These are achievements worthy of celebration – women are standing up for their rights and making strides towards gender equality. That is partly what International Women’s Day is about: recognising and celebrating past achievements that have led us to where we find ourselves today.

Women’s rights can be seen to be linked to women’s mental health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that there are higher rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders in women than men.

Although genetics and biology play a role in the high rates of these mental illnesses in women, it is also important to take a look at the societal inequalities between men and women in order to examine the varying impact to their mental health.

Women tend to fall prey to the societal pressure to “have it all” – they can feel pressure to have a great marriage, be a good mother and be successful in their careers. The pressure on women to excel at all of these aspects of their life can cause stress and lead to anxiety and depression.

Women are also under pressure to look good. We are conditioned from childhood to desire the “perfect” body. Countless magazines show images of photo-shopped models advertising new clothes or diets with the same underlying message – “don’t you want to look like this?”

Women are under continuous scrutiny for how they look, both from others and themselves. Magazine articles ridicule famous women for their appearance in their everyday lives – if someone has had the audacity to step outside without make-up on, it will be reported somewhere.

The societal pressure on women to look flawless at all times can have an impact on the rates of eating disorders in women. It can also be a cause of low self-esteem, stress, depression and anxiety.

Many well-known female celebrities have spoken out about mental health difficulties that they have faced. Demi Lovato and Nicole Scherzinger have famously opened up about their struggles with eating disorders.

Demi Lovato attributed her eating disorder to bullying that occurred when she was a child. Others would insult her appearance, damaging her self-confidence. This is an example of the pressure that many women face to have the “perfect” body and how it can have a negative impact on mental wellbeing.

Nicole Scherzinger spoke out about her battle with bulimia and how she became stuck in a vicious cycle. Although she knew that her actions were unhealthy, she found herself unable to stop until she realised that she was “going to lose everything”. She thought it was important to share her experience in order to show others that it is possible to recover from an eating disorder.

The struggles that these women faced show that women in all circumstances can be affected by mental health difficulties – being famous and widely considered beautiful doesn’t make you immune.

In order to tackle the common mental health issues facing women today, cultural norms, mind-sets and attitudes towards women must be altered. It is important to raise public awareness of gender biases in society in order to see change in women’s mental health.

The pressure on women to look perfect should also be dismantled. It is damaging for women to believe that their appearance is tied to their self-worth. It is important to strive for equality between men and women in order to reduce the negative impact of this pressure on women.

As Maya Angelou said,

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”

It is essential that we recognise and celebrate the achievements of women in the past who have fought for gender equality, and it is equally important that we continue to strive for more.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the progress that has been made in women’s rights and to endeavour to overcome the issues that face us today.

It is possible to reduce the impact of sociocultural factors on women’s mental health by creating a more equal society. We must do this not only for ourselves but for the women in the future who will look back and celebrate our achievements.