The below is a guest post from Jennifer Okolo, who is a therapist and the founder of She Aspires.
According to the National Institute of Mental health and other evidence-based research, mental health disorders affect men and women disproportionately. There are mental health disorders that are more commonly diagnosed in women such as depression and anxiety. Within this umbrella, there are certain types of disorder that over the years have been more identifiable and unique to women. These include symptoms of mental health disorders during hormonal changes i.e perinatal depression. Abuse is also often a factor in women’s mental health problems and treatments need to be sensitive and reflect those gender differences. Since the pandemic this year following COVID-19, domestic abuse against women has unfortunately increased. It is important to point out that COVID-19 does not cause domestic violence, only abusers are responsible for their actions. Nevertheless, according to Women’s Aid, the pandemic has, however, escalated abuse and closed down routes to safety for women to escape and ultimately affects their mental health.
This emphasises various social factors that put women at great risk of mental health which include:
- More women than men are the main carer for their children and they may care for other dependent relatives too – intensive caring can affect emotional health, physical health, social activities and finances
- Women often juggle multiple roles – they may be mothers, partners and carers as well as doing paid work and running a household
- Women are overrepresented in low income jobs – often part-time – and are more likely to live in poverty than men
- Poverty, working mainly in the home on housework and concerns about personal safety can make women particularly isolated
One of the common misconceptions around women’s mental health is that all women have this innate readiness to talk about their feelings and seek out strong social networks to help protect their mental health. Additionally, there is also the era of Freud where the history of ‘hysterical’ women and great extreme pressures exists for women to be conducted a certain way. This perception is often derived from the notion as outlined above, that women have now started taking on more ‘male-dominated’ roles such as being the figurehead of the home; completely dismantling the nuclear family we all grew up to learn that was the ‘right’ way and also are juggling careers, businesses and family life simultaneously.
These misconceptions must be cleared up as it can help make a difference in how we can all contribute to combating these problems.
Here are 3 common misconceptions about women and mental health that therapists hear often.
- ‘Women are too sensitive’: A lot of the time when women are low in mood or anxious, they are likely to be dismissed as being too emotional or sensitive which is a myth that needs to be dispelled. Society tends to rank people based on certain characteristics, for example. More confident personality traits are perceived as ‘strong’ and those that are more sensitive are deemed ‘weaker’. This creates further stigma and shame and diminishes a person’s mental health symptoms, consequently leading to silent suffering.
- There is a ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ emotional response: Women have a long history of taking care of everyone else but themselves. Even the idea of femininity, according to Psychology Today is often linked to vulnerability, although we are in the process of redefining what it means to be a woman in today’s world.
- It’s always a ‘chemical imbalance’: The theory of a chemical imbalance for women’s mental health is often at the first forefront of reference, but all this does is undermine the true complexities of the disorders that women face. It’s important to include societal implications and factors which can have an impact on how a person responds.
As a woman and therapist myself, I am working on dismantling these misconceptions by creating spaces where women are seen beyond bias. My work will continue in 2021 through my platform She Aspires, a career network which provides educational tools and career resources to support women to be more fulfilled and successful at work. Also, through my podcast She’s in a Pod, which I co-host with two other ladies, I hope to continue building a safe space for women to have unfiltered conversations about wellbeing, self-development and much more!
About the expert
Jennifer Okolo is a therapist and the founder of She Aspires – a brand centred around a digital platform that asks young females to write and interact on a series of real-world issues that affect them. Passionate about female empowerment, Jennifer has made it her mission to educate, encourage other women, as explored through social activism, podcasting as 1/3 of award-nominated ‘She’s In A Pod’, and numerous other public speaking engagements across Europe.
Image description: Jennifer is sitting with her legs crossed, smiling. She has long brown hair, dark brown eyes, and is wearing a grey collared shirt and jeans.