Simi Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Sakshi Sharda, Ritika Gupta, Anshula Mehta
The intersection of mental health and gender has come to the centre stage recently. To address the rising concerns regarding the same and paving the way for further dialogue and action, the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute organized a #WebPolicyTalk on Gender and Mental Health as part of The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps series on the 22nd of June ’21.
In the opening remarks of the chairperson for the session, Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, TATA Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai emphasized that according to the data from the WHO, a staggering proportion of all the health and economic hardships for women are due to ill mental health. This situation gets accentuated in southeast Asia and Latin America due to the stringent responsibilities implied by the gender roles. People from the LGBTQA+ community and women with mental health conditions are vulnerable due to the traumas and prejudices from society. Lack of access to proper means of education and employment also acts as a factor in the process.
The discussions about the mental health concerns for the women and the people from the queer community get space in the socio-political discourse of the country. People now feel comfortable sharing their traumas and taking the dialogue up a notch.
Gender and Mental Health Combining Theory and Practice
The conversation was led forward by Dr Meenu Anand, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, University of Delhi, Delhi. She showcased a 15-minute presentation in context for her upcoming book “Gender and Mental Health Combining Theory and Practice.” Dr Anand mentioned that gender is a key determinant in the study of mental health. Due to the pandemic, people have been under acute stress for over a year leading to amplification of the concerns about the overall mental well-being. The presentation was divided into three major categories, which were as follows:
Mental Health from a Gendered Perspective:
Mental health is the attainment of a sense of dignity, identity, meaning, and purpose by a person. Mental health is also a psycho-social field, in addition to a biological one. According to Dr Anand, the socio-cultural backdrops of a person affect his/her mental health. Gender does play a pivotal role in shaping the mental health of the individual may it be for a female, male, or a person with alternate sexuality, as the gender norms and roles are perpetuated in society.
Trends in Mental Health from a Gender Lens
From a bio-psychological perspective, both males and females have different ways of manifesting the imbalances in their mental health. According to the WHO, women are twice as more prone to developing internalized coping mechanisms, such as anxiety and depression. Whereas, men are more likely to externalize coping with traumas, which lead to their dominance in substance abuse and violence. In conclusion, gender plays a prominent role in deciding the status, power, exposure, and access to resources. Thus, a gendered approach to mental health would analyze the interconnections and correlations to various factors that play a part in a person’s life.
Theory and Practice
Additionally, Dr Anand emphasized the need for the amalgamation of theory and practice when dealing with critical issues, such as gender and mental health. The book is a humble attempt for the same, to bring closer the two aforementioned aspects of analysis. The book comprises 3 segments. The first talks about the conceptual underpinnings of gender and mental health, the second about mental health scenarios in India, and finally, the third segment is about the grass root realities in the same context.
Prof. Neelima Srivastava, School of Gender and Development Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, who is also the co-author of the book, continued the discussion. The central idea of the book is that mental health is a gendered issue and needs to be taken into consideration using analysis. To promote and ensure mental health deliberations, the lens of gender has to be used by mental health practitioners and researchers. The fluid notions of gender have to be deconstructed to bring about real change, given its complexity. The book extensively analyzes diverse issues under gender and mental health, which may help people battling the same and practitioners.
Professor Smita Deshpande, Professor & Senior Consultant, Centre of Excellence in Mental Health, ABVIMS- Dr RML Hospital, New Delhi shed light on the crucial subject of schizophrenia. The female gender is more prone to depression pertaining to biological factors. Mentally ill women are more often left out, cast away, and deprived of adequate support from the family and society. This makes them the most vulnerable group.
Dr Ananya Mahapatra, Specialist Consultant and Head of Department, Psychiatry, ESIC Hospital, Delhi confirmed that the mental health issues are heavily gendered. The pandemic has led to a major spike in domestic violence across countries. The traumas of the same have led to more women having PTSD. Since the access to resources is also unfair, women do not have access to the help they need for their mental wellbeing. Cultural stigmas play a major role in holding back females from seeking help.
Dr Kotteswara Rao, Assistant Director, Schizophrenia Research Foundation (India); Member, State Mental Health Authority (SMHA), Government of Tamil Nadu, added that the awareness surrounding mental health issues is limited. The Tamil Nadu government is working to help people with mental illnesses, especially the women in need. Dr Rao suggested that all state governments must have a comprehensive plan and a centralized system to tackle the issue.
As per evidence, poverty-related mental health issues are much higher in women than in men. The Tamil Nadu Women Development Corporation has trained various self-help. In addition to this, Mobile Tele Psychiatry services are being provided by SCARF in remote areas of the state.
The Role of Professional Counselling
Dr Varudhini Kankipati, Co-founder, InnerConnect, Telangana, elaborated on the importance of counselling in dealing with mental health issues. Women, in particular, are subjected to domestic abuse, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. This issue is not exclusive to stay-at-home women but working women as well. Another reason for the disturbed mental health of women during the pandemic is over exhaustion because of the household and professional responsibilities.
Women often cannot seek help because their issues are dismissed for being too emotional. Only when the problem becomes severe are they addressed and provided with resources. Furthermore, hypocrisy in the empowerment of women is also prevalent. For instance, families and society are supportive of women working from offices but deny the professional help that a female might need, under the excuse of being socially unacceptable. This makes women who work more prone to severe mental imbalances.
Sensitivity and Compexity
Dr M Manjula, Professor, Clinical Psychology, Department of Clinical Psychology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, mentioned the gaps in the field practices of a mental health profession. The psychologist talked about gender sensitivity in picking up symptoms, as all the genders have different manifestations of a mental health issue. Additionally, the therapist-client dynamic was discussed. The diversity in the Indian populace was also put into perspective. For instance, a diverse population with complex socio-cultural settings needs an inclusive approach when dealing with the shadow pandemic.
Following Dr Manjula’s dialogue was a question-and-answer session, wherein the experts shared insights and solutions to the various questions put up by the audience of the session.
Acknowledgement: Ramya Kathal is a Research Intern at IMPRI