Mental Health Issues among Middle-Aged Women- where are we going wrong?
Mental Health statistics have always weighed heavier on the female end- studies have found women to be more susceptible to mental health disorders than men. The awareness around mental wellbeing in India has undoubtedly increased over the past few years. However, the conversation has focused more on young people. Advertisements about mental health awareness are more likely to show teenagers rather than people who are the age of their parents. Very often, middle-aged people are left out of the mental health narrative.
Resultantly, one group of people that is highly susceptible to mental health disorders has escaped scrutiny- middle-aged women. This article looks into various studies, surveys and articles to arrive at reasons for mental illness within this age bracket of women. The focus is on the societal expectations from women and physical demands of being middle-aged.
Most middle-aged women in India are married and have children. This is no easy job- the list of domestic duties is long besides which, the responsibilities of children and elders (including their in-laws) more than often lies with these women. Working women are expected to perform these duties along with a 9 to 5 job. This study points out the conflict between family and work to be a source of stress for working middle-aged women. In essence, the expected role of a woman has a definite bearing on Indian women’s lives. Studies have pointed this out to be a legitimate cause for mental stress and disorders among women.
Is mental illness among these women going unnoticed?
Among various responsibilities, middle-aged women are highly likely to receive less attention and care from their families. This study points out how women married at a young age are more likely to develop depression or suicidal thoughts later in life. Women have always been categorised are ‘care-givers’ but who attends to them and their mental well-being?
In popular-culture, impossible standards are set for women. They are supposed to be ‘superwomen’ balancing domestic work and jobs while maintaining a small appetite and even smaller waist size. They are seldom shown to have their own lives or being allowed to ask for help when it is needed. When such images of women are being constructed, it is no wonder that their mental health concerns go unnoticed.
Abuse and its long-term effects
In India, about 2/3rd of married women have experienced domestic abuse. Most women have experienced some kind of sexual abuse in their lifetimes. Sexual coercion is also found to be a leading concern among female mental health patients in India. Forms of abuse have long-term effects on survivors’ mental health. This includes anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and substance-abuse. Most women in India experiencing alcohol-abuse or PTSD attribute it to abuse they have faced.
Menopause and its effects on mental health
Many studies have pointed to how mental health and menopause are related. Menopause coupled with infertility can cause a lack of self-esteem, a change in appearance, sleep disorders, depression and other mental health issues. This area of women’s health does not receive attention. Rather, menopausal women are depicted to simply have anger-issues. On the contrary, menopause is a very physically and mentally demanding time period. There needs to be more awareness and aid provided to women.
The way forward
To bring change, ideas and narratives have to be inculcated in policy and social norms. Women’s health policies cannot be limited to reproductive and maternal health. A focus on mental health in accordance to their unique social position is necessary.
The approach to improving the mental health situation for women has to be precise and detailed. Education and training about mental health must include the challenges for each gender and age-group. The HR intervention in companies must cater to middle-aged working women accordingly.
Change also has to be brought about in a larger, social sense. Women cannot be forced to take up all domestic work. They must be encouraged by families to have their own lives and take out time for themselves.
Domestic abuse and marital rape have to be addressed on social, political and legal levels. Survivors must be provided with adequate aid for mental health relief. Women have to stop being portrayed as perfect human beings who appear flawless and manage inhumane amounts of work. Instead, popular-culture needs to address burn-out, menopause, mental illness and independent lives of women. Indian serials should show daughter-in-laws lecture the family about burn-out from domestic work!
Shalabha Sarath is a student of International Relations at Shiv Nadar University. She enjoys writing for blogs and acrylic painting. She currently works as an Intern at Kanyaka Foundation.