When you review the literature, you can see some facts and figures indicating that women have a higher rate of some certain mental disorders, among them Anxiety Disorders, and in the west, Eating Disorders. And since women usually face more traumatic events, it appears that they experience a greater amount of stress, particularly in societies where their rights are not fully acknowledged and they have limited access to resources. But why? You may already know that for any kind of disorder, usually there are more than one factors involved. There are genetic factors, environmental factors, and psychological factors that play a role in mental disorders. The following article examines some of the views and trends regarding this subject and poses some interesting questions, particularly about women in the United States. There may be some correlations between the problems and causes she has listed here that are noteworthy, but I do not necessarily agree with all her views. Victoria Bekiempis starts with “Can so many US women really be mentally ill? Perhaps some are wrongly pathologized, but there is a rational explanation.” Esmael Darman
This article was first published by The Guardian on Nov 21, 2011
Are women crazy?
The world’s mostly male “great thinkers” have tended to say so, characterizing women as the weaker sex both physically and psychologically. In Plato’s “Timaeus”, female moodiness and misbehavior are explained with the wandering uterus theory. The wily womb, in this account, “gets disconnected and angry, and wandering in every direction through the body, closes up the passages of the breath, and by obstructing respiration, drives them to extremity, causing all varieties of disease.” Several hundred years later, a Greek surgeon by the name of Galen would expand upon the Athenian’s explanation. For him, ladies’ mental ills stem from their sex drive: women become “hysterical”, he reasoned, when they don’t get properly laid.
From Galen’s era until the mid 19th century, there were several “prescriptions” available for nasty cases of hysteria: Married women needed to have more sex with their husbands, and single females were told to seek “pelvic massages” from qualified technicians, to produce “hysterical paroxysm” (what’s now known simply as an “orgasm”). The latter practice would eventually get recommended to women regardless of marital status, achieving its peak in Europe and the US around the mid 19th century. Vibrator treatments, somewhat unsurprisingly, would become one of the most popular outpatient procedures of that era.
Shortly after, hysteria’s explanatory powers would wane, overtaken by Sigmund Freud’s notion of penis envy. The Austrian psychiatrist claimed that women are batshit because, well, they just aren’t men. The result? Little girls would all grow up to become masochists with daddy complexes. The proof, supposedly, was rooted in the “phallic” way they liked to plait hair.
It would seem easy to laugh at these anti-woman approaches to mental health as absurdly antiquarian – until you read recently released statistics about psychiatric medication. A report from MedCo published last week notes that 25% of US women take meds for depression, anxiety, ADHD or another mental disorder. In men, that number is 15%. One article notes that more and more women have been prescribed anti-depressants in the past decade, and that nearly twice as many women are on anti-anxiety treatment as their male counterparts. One doctor’s explanation behind the disparity: women might be more likely to seek help.
Not all are convinced, and with good reason: if one quarter of American women is considered to have a mental abnormality, the notion of normality becomes questionable. Also, if women are portrayed as statistically more unstable, there’s concern that we’re going to be cast off as “the other” – similar to the way western society’s ideological lepers were dismissed as “crazy” and locked in asylums (viz Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization). The XX Factor’s KJ Dell’Antonia puts it this way:
“One in four is too many. Even if there are bottles and bottles of medicine sitting unused. Even if some of those prescriptions went unfilled. One in four suggests that either women, or our doctors, are being sold on an ideal of mental health that’s unrealistic.”
I’m not sure, however, that the explanation is that simple. Obviously, sexism often comes into play into these diagnoses, as it has since the classical era.
Much has been written about how women aren’t taken seriously by their doctors, who have been known to dole out Valium just to shut them up. On the other hand, it’s entirely realistic that so many women feel imbalanced. It’s almost shocking that the number isn’t much higher, considering that rape culture – and its dire psychological ramifications – remain prevalent in America. (See riot by supporters of Joe Paterno, which shows more intense sympathy for a football coach who seems to have largely overlooked the sexual abuse of minors taking place on his watch at Penn State, than it does for the victims of the alleged perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky)
It’s not beyond the realm of reason to think that a widespread psychological malaise might be a very realistic symptom of a broader problem. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network reports that one out of every six American women has either been the victim of attempted or completed rape – 17.7 million American women. For men, that number is 3%.
“Girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault,” RAINN stats indicate. The numbers also suggest that 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 have been the victims of sexual abuse. For young males, this number is less: 3% and 5%, respectively. Some 60% of these attacks go unreported, and even when reported, bringing cases to trial and obtaining convictions is notoriously difficult, meaning that a mere 6% rapists wind up doing jail time.
Understandably, victims of these crimes tend to feel traumatized, often experiencing depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts, RAINN notes. That could certainly explain a significant proportion of the mental unease reported by women. Of course, a significant proportion of women aren’t going to feel “normal” and “happy” when they have been victimised – and live in a society where they tend to get blamed and ostracised for these aggressions. Of course, a significant number of women aren’t going to feel “balanced” and “rational”: even if they aren’t the victims of sexual violence, the threat constantly looms. From early adolescence, we are taught to be on our guard and vigilant at all times. After all, if something bad happens – from a subway masturbator to a brutal assault – authorities might turn a blind eye, or suggest that the victim’s way of dress prompted the attack.
Even non-violent pressures – such as sexual harassment, from which far more women suffer – collectively chisel away at our sense of self-worth. It’s naive to think that self esteem – required for mental health – can flourish in an environment that routinely tells us that what we are is just “T&A”.
That one in four women takes mental health medication should not be that surprising. That we’re still treating the symptoms of our sick-making sexual politics in 2011, rather than the cause of the epidemic, should be surprising and entirely inexcusable.
Source: The Guardian