All for a happy space

Female hormones and socio-economic factors, stigma and lack of awareness are making women more susceptible to mental health woes, writes Dr Prakriti Poddar.

Tackling mental illness requires creating a bulwark of support and comfort for the victim through a series of measures.

Stigma and taboo have for long resulted in underplaying the prevalence of mental illnesses across the world. In India, where a lack of awareness surrounds the issue, mental illnesses are often spoken about in hushed tones. A survey conducted by a non-profit organisation across eight Indian cities found that as many as 47% of the respondents were ‘highly judgmental’ about people with mental illnesses. While 26% of the respondents were categorised as being afraid of the mentally ill, a large number of others maintained that one should keep a safe distance from those who are depressed. The result of this apathy is that thousands of people continue to suffer without seeking any medical help.

A series of studies across the world have found that depression and generalised anxiety disorders — two of the most common forms of mental illnesses — are more prevalent among women as compared to men. Interestingly, it is not just stigmatisation that prevents people from seeking help, lack of awareness is another major culprit.

A subtle illness

A person with depression or anxiety will not always be seen moving around with a gloomy expression or fighting tears. Many women battling anxiety or depression continue to carry on with their daily routines — tending to kids, taking care of the household and kitchen — without any outsider noticing any major anomaly. The symptoms are often subtle. Some people find themselves feeling confused, forgetful, sleepless or always anxious. Others gradually lose interest in different happenings of life. Yet others find themselves zapped of all energy and spend more time sleeping. People with obsessive-compulsive disorders will spend hours trying to clean the house or repeating certain motions again and again. People with limited understanding of mental health issues rarely perceive these symptoms as that of mental illness that needs medical help.

Women more prone to depression

According to the World Health Organisation, depressive disorders account for close to 41.9% of the disability from neuropsychiatric disorders among women compared to 29.3% among men. Similarly, leading mental health problems of the older adults — depression, organic brain syndromes and dementia — are much more prevalent among women. Unipolar depression, which is predicted to be the second leading cause of global disability burden by 2020, was found to be twice as common in women while the lifetime risk of anxiety disorders was two-three times higher in females.

Since statistics tell us that women bear a higher burden of mental illnesses, it is important to educate them about the need for seeking timely medical help. Fortunately, women are more likely to report their symptoms as compared to men who are often prevented from doing so due to the socially-propagated concept of “masculinity”. Apart from female hormones that play a crucial role in making women more susceptible to anxiety and depression, a number of socio-economic factors are also responsible for the same. Not just the rate of incidence, difference is also reported in the way mental illness manifests among the genders. The age of onset of symptoms, course of disease, frequency of psychotic symptoms, as well as long-term outcome differs between the genders. 

Support is key

Tackling mental illness requires creating a bulwark of support and comfort for the victim through a series of measures. While such support essentially begins at home, it is also important for workplaces to set up assistance mechanisms for employees who are displaying signs of mental distress or showing a sudden or drastic drop in performance.

(The author is director, Poddar Wellness )

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All for a happy space

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