- Gender may play a significant role in the development of mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression, creating unique circumstances for women.
- Unfortunately, women are also more likely to be viewed as frail or fragile for expressing what they’re suffering from to those around them. And many fear that if they seek help, they’ll be seen as unstable.
- Yet the evidence points out that regular therapy attendees are more stable and experience higher life satisfaction rates than non-attendees—which means the stigma surrounding women seeking mental health services is entirely unwarranted.
- Besides talking with a mental health professional, women can share their decision to talk with a provider at their own discretion to avoid stigma, remind themselves that it’s healthy to express emotions, and avoid placing unwarranted societal labels on themselves.
Coping with a mental health condition is often anything but easy—and it seems as though gender plays a major role in an individual’s battle with mental health. For women, their perceptions of themselves may influence how they choose to deal with mental health concerns. They may find themselves conflicted when dealing with mental health issues and fear how others might view them if they disclose their struggles. The way in which women view themselves can feel like a constant tug-of-war between the relief of self–acceptance and the burning shame of self-loathing.
While men are statistically more likely to hide their mental health struggles and remain silent in their suffering, women face more potential backlash for seeking help.
Seeking Help Often Means Fearing Judgment
Reaching out to a mental health professional for assistance in processing any issue is often a process defined by vulnerability, uncertainty, and hope, too. For people of all gender identifications, shame may play a role in stopping many from ever seeking therapy or counseling—unfortunately, the act of seeking help from a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist is steeped in stereotypes. Let’s take a look at female stereotypes, specifically.
The ‘hysterical woman’ trope is an old generalization, cemented in 19th-century sexist theories postulated by male psychologists of the time period. This is just one of many stereotypical representations of women, which can be used to minimize the unique hardships and mental health struggles that women may experience, including:
- Being depicted as overly-emotional, sensitive creatures who can’t handle the stressors of professional or domestic life.
- Being viewed as mentally frail or fragile because of their typically smaller stature.
- Menstrual cycles or pregnancies being used as a way to dismiss cognitive or physical distress, including remarks such as, “It’s just her time of the month,” or, “It’s just the baby blues.”
So when mental health conditions or concerns do arise, women often fear being written off as irrational or passionate. This is just one of the many gender-specific hurdles that modern women must overcome in their journey toward mental health and wellbeing.
Women Are At a Higher Risk of Developing Depression, Anxiety
Research points to higher rates of depression and anxiety in women than in men—and regardless of whether it’s due to male stoicism or not, it’s a serious health and social issue that needs to be addressed. Due to female-specific events such as gender-based violence, and the societally-driven pressure women may face to find a partner and “settle down,” women are more likely to develop PTSD, as well as to report intense feelings of loneliness. Single women are more likely than other groups to develop a chronic illness, such as high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and respiratory issues.
It’s clear: The data shows that women are at a higher risk in many mental and physical health-related categories than men are. This is theorized to have something to do with the way that men and women differ in their expression of negative emotions, with men seeming to externalize what they feel through physical aggression and verbal communication, and women becoming withdrawn and more likely to internalize negative feelings or withhold affection from those they’re upset with.
Mustering the Confidence to Seek Help
Women can take some of the following action steps to navigate their decision to seek therapy or counseling. They might start by:
- Sharing their decision to seek mental health services with those who will support their journey: If you can’t trust that someone won’t judge you for talking with a mental health professional, skip this tip. Those you share details of your therapeutic journey with should be supportive and offer encouragement—know that talking with a provider, of any kind, isn’t taboo. After all; is anyone ridiculed for going to a doctor’s appointment?
- Reminding themselves that it’s okay to express their feelings: Female voices are often silenced at a young age—a struggle that many men may understand all too well. Women should feel encouraged to speak up, especially when they’re experiencing anxiety, depression, anger, or other unpleasant feelings.
- Casting aside societal labels: No one can truly define you but yourself. So ditch the ball and chain formed by stereotypes and tropes. A therapist or counselor can help you rebrand yourself, and reframe your life’s journey. This might mean that someone who was once written off as “hysterical” can start viewing herself in a new light—as bold, resilient, and outspoken.
With so many derogatory views and social hurdles to clamber already, the last thing that women should have to do is internalize the negativity and allow it to harm their self-esteem and sense of value. But with the right provider, and hopefully, a social network that supports their independence (and doesn’t judge them for taking care of themselves), women who are experiencing mental health issues can take the power back into their own hands, one session at a time.