On the 10th of October every year, World Mental Health Day is celebrated, accentuating the notion that mental health is a universal human right. The right to access mental health care and facilities, diagnosis, treatment, awareness etc. should be a point of consensus among all nations, to curb the growing worldwide epidemic of mental health disorders and conditions. Everyone has the right to have stable mental health irrespective of their social, economic and cultural identities and this should be assured by all governments and healthcare institutions and organisations.
According to WHO, “Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in.”
However, because of the unique social and cultural positioning of each individual, the experiences of “coping with stress,” “contributing to the community,” etc. which determine the state of mental health according to WHO, drastically vary. Women experience the state of mental health and it deteriorating differently than men, and so do persons from LGBTQI.
The gender gap in mental health, cannot be overlooked and disregarded. What that means is that women, and other gender minorities, with their different social, cultural, and economic locations in the society do experience the effects, approaches and consequences in myriad ways. The different roles, responsibilities, and other social constructs that women and other gender minorities are bound with change the behavioural approaches of the affected and also the healthcare institutions and society at large.
Indian society is highly patriarchal and based on the Brahamnical caste system. Upper caste particularly cishet men, secure large percentages in making policies, decisions, rules and regulations and the women and other gender minorities from marginalised religions and castes are always at the receiving end, with less to no say at all.
This means the policies around mental health, access, redressals and attitudes are determined by upper-caste cishet men who will not take into consideration a woman’s lived experience (from a marginalised caste, class or religion) of going through stress, anxiety, or postpartum depression. Access to mental health care systems highly depends on who is affected and who is accessing it.
The adverse offshoots of patriarchy and caste system generate and provoke other social constructs and ills such as gender stereotyping and biases, oppression of minority genders, gendered social roles and responsibilities, and gendered violence, which can seriously harm the mental health of minority genders and impede their access to healthcare.
Pregnant women undergo postpartum depression which was not even recognised earlier, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD,) a highly serious mental health condition associated with menstruating women, was not even researched or spoken about, about a decade ago, because affected were gender minorities, and the cishet men who are at the helm of decision making and policymaking in health care, never lived through these experiences.
A study by Patel, 2005, Patel and Ooman, 1999 and the World Health Organization, 2009 found that reproductive health conditions can inflict a significant burden on women’s health. The recent NFHS data found that “29.3 per cent of married Indian women between the ages of 18 and 49 have experienced domestic/sexual violence; 3.1 per cent of pregnant women aged 18 to 49 have suffered physical violence during their pregnancy,” which eventually puts an indelible mark on women’s mental health.
Because of various social inequalities and social constructs around mental health and gender the affected go through a tricky terrain. Apart from the social hierarchies and structural indifference, social stigmas, societal and cultural taboos, and lack of awareness and education create a toxic mix wherein the affected remain unattended and the concerns unaddressed.
We at FII are inviting submissions on Gender and Mental Health during the month of October to encourage conversations about the highly stigmatised domain of mental health and foster a discourse for awareness and change.
Here are a few broad pointers that may help you write your articles on the topic:
- Gender, mental health and caste
- Gender, mental health and minority ethnicities or religions
- Mental health is a feminist issue
- Gender-based violence and mental health
- Lack of awareness and education about mental health
- Mental health and reproductive health
- Social stigmas and taboos around mental health and gender
- Politics around mental health
- LGBTQI and mental health
- The gap between urban and rural in accessing mental health care
- Research and policies around women’s mental health
- Workplace gendered inequalities and mental health
- Pop culture narratives on women and mental health
- The gendered essentialisation of mental illness in women
- Mental health narratives in literature
This list is not exhaustive. Please write on other topics within the theme that we may have missed listing here. Some of these topics are extremely personal in nature, and if you wish to maintain anonymity with respect to the publication of such pieces, kindly mention them in your email.
We look forward to your drafts and hope you enjoy writing them!
Featured Illustration: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India