Editor’s Note: This month, that is October 2019, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Mental Health And Well-Being, where we invite various articles narrating people’s experiences of living or living with someone with mental health issues. If you’d like to share your story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trigger Warning: Depression
Depression is a mental disorder that is accompanied by low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, low energy and pain without a clear cause. It is one of the most common disorders that disproportionately affects women in low- income countries like India. This is caused due to multiple reasons including problems associated with childbirth, domestic violence, sexual harassment in public spaces and poverty. Research has also shown that there is a strong interaction between all such risk factors.
The preference for male children is deeply rooted in Indian society. Women, who do notand cannot have any control over the gender of their children are still blamed for the birth of female children in households. Women also have very little control over their reproductive and sexual health. These factors make the process of childbirth extremely stressful for women and lead to postnatal depression. The birth of a female child is associated with higher levels of depression than the birth of a male child because of the burden of giving birth to a male child is usually shifted to the next pregnancy.
The first is the lack of development of discourse around mental health. Most women in India who are depressed are not even aware of the presence of any psychological condition that affects them.
Economic deprivation also impacts women more severely. Women in economically weaker households are forced to not only contribute to the economic earnings of their families but the burden of managing the household lies exclusively on them. Moreover, such households are often stuck in a cycle of poverty in India. Heightened exertion accompanied by continuous exclusion from economic prosperity is also known to cause depression. Violence and the threat of violence are also extremely gendered in India. Domestic abuse is extremely prevalent. Marital rape is not criminalized under Indian law. This puts women at a position of extreme disadvantage and has a detrimental impact on their mental health. The high prevalence of sexual harassment in public spaces has the same impact.
The impact of depression on women is very wide. Depression leads to low energy and fatigue, loss of interest in favourable activities and changes in appetite that causes an unintended increase or decrease in weight, troubles in concentration and indecisiveness. Moreover, the majority of women in India do not have access to therapy and other methods of intervention that help with depression. Barriers to accessibility stem from multiple reasons.
The first is the lack of development of discourse around mental health. Most women in India who are depressed are not even aware of the presence of any psychological condition that affects them. In urban regions, mental illnesses are actively stigmatized by society. Mental disorders and illnesses are also excluded from school curriculum. This leads to people hiding their mental illnesses including depression from the public view to avoid social stigma. The ignorance and stigmatization of mental health by society prevents people from accessing the very limited resources available.
The compounding of lower productivity due to depression and workplace discrimination puts women at positions of extreme disadvantage in their careers as compared to men.
Economic barriers also limit access to resources. Government hospitals, which are usually free, only have resources to deal with the most severe of all mental illnesses. People suffering from disorders such as anxiety and depression and are given the lowest priority in government-run hospitals. Private practitioners, on the other hand, tend to be too expensive for people to access. This has made mental healthcare in India a classist commodity as it is only available to the most privileged sections of Indian Society.
Depression leads to a decrease in the productivity of individuals. Research shows that people suffering from depression tend to be less productive in workplaces than those who don’t. Women face gender-based discrimination in workplaces, which leads to the creation of an uneven playing field and a ‘glass-ceiling’ that women need to break in order to become successful. The compounding of lower productivity due to depression and workplace discrimination puts women at positions of extreme disadvantage in their careers as compared to men.
Depression has an impact on the personal lives of women as well. Irrespective of their careers, the responsibility of taking care of the household is ultimately imposed on women by society. Depression makes interpersonal communication much more difficult. Having the added responsibility to ensure the well being of the family, not only tends to make their disease worse but also has an impact on the lives of the people around them.
There is a need for the government to generate awareness around depression and its specific impact on women. This can be done through running awareness campaigns that aim at generating productive discourse in society. These campaigns serve different purposes in urban and rural areas. Whilst campaigns generally aim at creating awareness and generating discourse in rural areas, they are more directed towards fighting myths and misconceptions in urban regions of the country.
Riddhi Jhunjhunwala is a grade 11 student at the British School, New Delhi. She is an avid pianist and dancer, and a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Riddhi has founded her own social initiative where she aims to educate women about various illnesses that impact women and provide a safe space to encourage conversation and discussion about these topics with each other and health professionals. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Neuroscience News