“Women and mental health”- 13 March 2014
It is a tall order to be declared a successful /efficient housewife. It is a taller order to be a successful woman (combination of housewife and working woman). For many it is an impossible role to follow. Young girls today can be extremely efficient in professional careers but somewhat failures in private life. They cannot manage the job of multi-tasking home and work. Management experts talk of work life balance but the task is Himalayan and cannot be achieved without the support of the family in totality.
Singles are known to enjoy better mental health than the married women if they are professional women. The psycho-social stressors in family and marital life are the main causes for high percentage of mental illness in women compared to men. Many may not agree but ‘Women’s studies in India’ published in 2008 clearly mentions this glaring fact. To put it simply we could say that managing people is more complicated than handling machines and women do just that -manage people and that too at home (not work place) which has to be done with love and affection. Women are the chief care-givers and nurturers at home for the children and the old. She has to serve with love.
Hence, following this specific social role, naturally, women give far greater importance to relationships than men do. Women invest much more time and energy in caring and loving. They are taught to be like this from childhood. Her other roles are secondary to this primary role. Therefore her chief identity rests on the successful handling or management of relationships. Her degree and certificates come from the significant members of the family who will vouch for her goodness or her failure. She becomes an easy target for all that goes wrong at home with the children or the food or whatever.
This is not so for men for their success is measured by their material and professional achievements –job, business, money, material possessions etc. His certificates lie in providing monetary security and luxuries to his family.
There are two categories of mental illness- psychosis or ‘severe’ mental illness and neurosis or the ‘common’ mental disorders. The causes of severe disorders are generally bio-genetic, and the common disorders originate in psycho-social factors/stressors. While there are no gender differences in the severe disorders (which constitute only about 3 percent of all disorders) there is a clear tilt as far as women are concerned in the category of common mental disorders. Women suffer twice as frequently illness than men in common disorders. Data showed that up to 11percent of women in the community may be suffering from common mental disorders. Women would report more of common disorders such as depression, anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders, hysterias, backaches and stress.
An orthopaedic surgeon informed us that 85% of backaches in women are psychological! A large number of women report for such common aches and pains such as backaches, neck pains, headaches and similar aches in the limbs. A large could be psychological we can be sure as the pain travels down the mind and into the bones and the muscles of the body. Since there are not many people interested at home in listening to her plight and she has to fight it alone all by herself she falls ill. She pays for it through bad health and poor quality of life.
As nuclear families shrink in size and people become scarce it is important for the women who are housewives to engage themselves in a creative activity whether it is a part time job or a full time hobby. This provides her an outlet for her creative energies, recognition of her own work and a great escape route for her boredom. For women who are working in professional roles and are burdened with domestic responsibilities and unhappy relationships at home the choices are few. She would wish to run away from the situation but finds herself caught in a maze. That is when her mental health gets compromised.