By Saara Meghji, Canada.
As discussed previously on this blog, the experiences that individuals have with feminism are vastly different based on various identities and life circumstances. Mental illness is no exception. Due to the preexisting stigma attached to mental illness in today’s world, individuals struggling with maintaining their mental health are often afraid to openly discuss the incredibly valid issues they are going through, for fear of judgement or of being dismissed. However, one of the many ways in which that stigma can be lifted is through the feminist movement doing more to acknowledge the stigmatization of mental health as another byproduct of destructive patriarchal norms.
***DISCLAIMER: Mental illnesses in their entirety cannot be wholly attributed to the causes identified in this post; everyone has vastly different lived experiences which can in no way just be summed up through my own individual perspective on/experience with this issue. This post is just to shed light on how the patriarchy plays a harmful role in increasing the stigma which exists around individuals with mental illness.
Mental illness, first and foremost, tends to be incredibly common amongst women. Women experience depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD about twice as often as men do, and make up 75% of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A reason for this is that women often develop mental illnesses as a result of having faced oppression. Issues like sexual assault and domestic violence, more commonly faced by women, are said to be a factor leading to the development of various mental illnesses due to trauma that ensues as a result. But even on a smaller scale, feelings of self-loathing which can manifest into mental illnesses often arise as a result of destructive patriarchal mechanisms designed to silence and oppress women. This looks like toxic beauty standards which push forth an “ideal” body type on women. This looks like working women who don’t make as much as their male counterparts (through NO fault of their own) internalizing the notion that they receive less pay because there is something inherently wrong with them and the way that they carry out their jobs. This looks like very damaging sexist practices targeted towards women, which have the potential to affect them for life.
Furthermore, individuals are either disincentivized from actively seeking help, or do so but are often dismissed and denied of the treatment they need. This most prominently extends to men. Due to an existing culture which sees strength as synonymous with masculinity and restrained emotion, the stereotype that men must be as strong as possible often is perceived to also mean that men must be as reserved and unemotional as possible in order to maintain their “manliness”. This means that men who are dealing with mental illness are discouraged from talking about it or reaching out about it, creating a polarizing culture wherein men turn to alternative measures to deal with what they’re going through because they are simply unable to point to other men in their lives who commonly deal with these issues, thus restricting them from feeling comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone. As such, while women attempt suicide 3 to 4 times more often than men, more than 75% of suicides involve men. In addition, women who come out as mentally ill are often seen as dubious based off of the perception that they are being “crazy” or “dramatic,” words often thrown around when describing a woman who is expressing a concern deeply important to her. This in turn disincentivizes women from accessing help due to a reinforced belief that their emotions aren’t valid or that they are not “mentally ill enough” to receive medication or therapy.
As someone who personally struggles with mental illness, the notion that I am alone in what I am dealing with is an all too familiar feeling. However, as cliche as it may sound, it is important to realize that mental illness is something that is both incredibly common and incredibly possible to manage with adequate help. If this is something you’re struggling with, PLEASE reach out to friends, to family, to a counsellor, etc. Dealing with mental illness is not easy, and it is in no way something you need to go through alone.
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