Embracing Intersectionality: Transforming Women’s Mental Health Discourse

In a groundbreaking initiative, the Gender Impact Study Center (GISC) at the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) orchestrated a transformative three-day online certificate course on Gender and Mental Health. This comprehensive event served as a beacon, assembling distinguished speakers whose profound insights not only enriched the virtual discourse but also ignited enlightening discussions and presentations.

Professor Vibhuti Patel’s role as the program chair and a Visiting Distinguished Professor at IMPRI, brought a wealth of experience and insight to the discussion on women’s mental health. Throughout the program, Prof. Patel tirelessly emphasized the intricate interconnectedness of gender dynamics and mental well-being, drawing attention to her extensive career dedicated to unravelling social inequalities, with a particular focus on the profound impact of patriarchal structures on women’s mental health.

Prof. Patel’s opening remarks at the event served as a powerful catalyst, setting the tone for a discourse transcending conventional approaches to mental health. She passionately advocated for a paradigm shift, urging participants to move beyond simplistic perspectives that often overlook the complex sociocultural realities women face. Her critical examination of the medicalization of mental health highlighted the need for a more inclusive framework that considers the diversity of experiences within cross-cultural psychiatry, stressing the importance of acknowledging the sociocultural environment in which women navigate their mental health journeys.

A cornerstone of Prof. Patel’s insights was introducing the AMIC approach – a methodology that embraces a broader, culturally sensitive understanding of mental health. This approach, which considers the nuances of diverse sociocultural environments, emerged as a significant departure from traditional models, reflecting Prof. Patel’s commitment to fostering inclusivity in mental health discussions. The emphasis on incorporating cultural perspectives underscored the imperative of recognizing that mental well-being is intricately tied to cultural contexts, challenging the one-size-fits-all narrative that often dominates mainstream discourse.

The unequal relationship dynamics within the psychiatric system became a focal point in Prof. Patel’s address. She astutely observed how specialists, at times, pathologize feminine qualities, contributing to an environment that may not fully appreciate the multifaceted nature of women’s mental health. This critical perspective opened avenues for reflection on the inherent biases within the mental health field, prompting a collective reevaluation of approaches that may inadvertently reinforce gender stereotypes.

Prof. Patel invited resource persons to share their first-hand experiences working with diverse communities, enriching the discussion with practical insights from those immersed in the field.

Unveiling Intersectionality in Women’s Mental Health

The cornerstone of the course was Dr. Cicilia Chettiar’s illuminating exploration of intersectionality in women’s mental health. As the Associate Professor and Head of the Department at Maniben Nanavati Women’s College, Mumbai, Dr. Chettiar brought a unique blend of academic rigor and personal experience to the forefront. She skillfully unraveled the layers of intersectionality, shedding light on how an individual’s diverse roles and societal expectations intricately intersect, drawing from her own journey navigating the dynamic landscape of Mumbai.

Her meticulous critique of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and its historical biases towards women added a critical dimension to the conversation. Dr. Chettiar passionately underscored the imperative need to challenge prevailing stereotypes that have unduly shaped the discourse surrounding mental health. Her call to action resonated as a powerful reminder of the urgency to address the complexities of women’s mental health through holistic interventions, fostering a more compassionate future.

Understanding Intersectionality: Unraveling Layers

Dr Chettiar skillfully unravelled the layers of intersectionality, providing a nuanced perspective on how an individual’s diverse roles and societal expectations intersect. This intricate exploration went beyond the theoretical framework, delving into women’s lived experiences. By weaving personal narratives into her discourse, Dr Chettiar added a human touch to the complex academic concept of intersectionality. This approach not only made the content more relatable but also heightened the engagement of the audience.

The layers of intersectionality, as illuminated by Dr. Chettiar, portrayed the multidimensional nature of women’s mental health challenges. It was not a singular lens through which these challenges could be understood but a convergence of various factors that demanded a holistic and inclusive approach.

Psychological Repercussions and Biases in Mental Health Discourse

Dr. Chettiar’s discourse extended to the psychological repercussions of the intricate intersections she outlined. Her insights delved into the profound influence of societal norms on behavioural patterns, providing a critical examination of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The historical biases embedded in the DSM towards women became a focal point of discussion, as Dr Chettiar fervently underscored the imperative need to understand the underlying reasons for specific behaviours exhibited by women.

This critical analysis challenged prevailing stereotypes that have unduly shaped the discourse surrounding mental health. By questioning established norms, Dr Chettiar not only exposed the biases within the academic and clinical realms but also advocated for a paradigm shift in understanding women’s mental health. The call was for awareness and a fundamental reevaluation of the frameworks that have shaped mental health discourse for decades.

Societal Expectations and Women’s Mental Health

Central to Dr. Chettiar’s address was the exploration of how societal expectations intricately shape and impact women’s mental health. This dimension of her presentation highlighted the necessity of coping mechanisms, especially during significant life transitions such as menopause and childbirth. Dr. Chettiar emphasized the importance of recognizing and addressing the unique challenges faced by women during these transformative phases.

The societal lens through which women’s mental health is often viewed came under scrutiny, and Dr. Chettiar called for a more comprehensive understanding. By acknowledging the multifaceted nature of these challenges, she challenged the status quo, urging for an empathetic and nuanced approach that considers the complexities of women’s lives.

Championing Holistic Approaches: Urgency in Therapeutic Interventions

In her concluding remarks, Dr. Chettiar passionately advocated for a nuanced and empathetic approach to understanding mental health issues in women. She emphasized the urgency of addressing intersectionality in therapeutic interventions, championing a holistic methodology that considers the complex interplay of societal factors. Dr. Chettiar’s call to action resonated powerfully, urging the fostering of a more compassionate and understanding environment for women navigating the complexities of mental health.

The urgency in her message was not just a theoretical concept but a plea for tangible changes in how mental health interventions are structured. Dr. Chettiar’s holistic approach emphasized the interconnectedness of various factors, demanding a departure from traditional models that often oversimplify the complexities of women’s mental health.

Elevating the Discourse and Urging Action

In conclusion, Dr. Cicilia Chettiar’s presentation is invaluable to the discourse on women’s mental health. By unpacking the layers of intersectionality, she provided a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by women, particularly in the context of societal expectations and biases in mental health discourse. Her call for a more inclusive and empathetic approach serves as a powerful reminder of the urgency to address the complexities of women’s mental health through holistic interventions.

Dr Chettiar’s insights beckon a transformative shift in how society perceives and responds to the mental well-being of women, urging not just awareness but concrete actions for a more compassionate future. Her presentation goes beyond being a part of the discourse; it stands as a catalyst for change, a plea for a paradigm shift in the approach to women’s mental health. The echoes of her message linger, urging stakeholders to translate awareness into actions, making tangible strides towards a more empathetic and inclusive mental health landscape for women.

Acknowledgement: This article was published by Rehmat Arora, a Research Intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here:
Breaking Barriers: Unveiling Sociocultural Complexities in Women’s Mental Health
Navigating the Complexities of Mental Health: A Holistic Perspective