Sad, but a bitter truth – Females are more prone to mental illness

August 31, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER

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Rimli Bhattacharya



I sat across a female who smiled at me. As I am authoring a book alongside a psychiatrist I would be taking interview of this young woman who had just returned from her session with the psychiatrist. While she kept smiling at me the husband complained that back at home she tried to strangle her fifteen month old baby.


Yet in another interview a woman revealed she was obsessed with human genitals and felt compelled to worship only the genitals of her Gods and Goddesses.


A young woman waits for her turn to be counseled and interviewed by me. She had cut her fingers and always got an orgasm each time she saw blood trickling down her body.


I always thought mental illness was not confined to any gender which is true but now I find that females are more prone to mental illness. Throughout August I interviewed and counseled fifteen patients and of the fifteen only two were men, the rest all belonging to my gender.


To list a few common mental disorders, these can be classified as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Schizophrenia, Hysteria, Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Phobia, Split Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and other non specific disorders. Studies say women are more prone to mental illness compared to men with young women at higher risk. Not my words but I am quoting from the biggest survey on mental health and treatment which was conducted in England. The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, conducted every seven years and based on interviews with a cross section of the general population aged 16 and over, found that one in six adults (17%) had a common mental disorder—one in five women (20.7%) and one in eight men (13.2%).


In India however Depression has been categorized as the most prevalent mental illness common in females. Major depressive disorder and Unipolar depressive disorder are the most frequent depression disorders a woman faces in India. In a country where we still consider the birth of a girl child as ill luck these factors contributing to the malady doesn’t surprise me. Female infanticide is still prevalent but if by a stroke of luck the female fetus survives she becomes a victim of the cruelest whiplash by her own family leading to depression and other mental afflictions.


If we discuss globally on women’s health hazards we can say that statistics don’t lie and women seek treatment for mental illness twice as much compared to men. JR Thorpe, in an article for Bustle, said that increasingly, women should be an active participant in multiple roles as a carer, homemaker, and a breadwinner all while being perfectly shaped and impeccably dressed while having less reward and control […] Given that domestic work is undervalued, and considering that women tend to be paid less, find it harder to advance in a career, have to juggle multiple roles, and are bombarded with images of apparent female ‘perfection’, it would be surprising if there weren’t some emotional cost.


It has also been observed that both physical and emotional abuses are actively contributing factors behind aggravation of the mental indisposition in women. Women who live under constant fear of being blamed become victims of sexism and misogyny, often being slut shamed and judged. This leads to an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity which induces and increases the anxiety level in a woman, his triggering a state of psychological distress. A woman once in her lifetime goes through an episode of sexual abuse and as I said, statistics don’t lie. So be it sexual or emotional the woman whoever undergoes any sort of abuse becomes a victim of mental illness later in her youth. As a counselor, a request to all the women folk, please open up with your stories of childhood/adolescent sex abuse, you have a greater chance of healing and not succumbing to mental illness.


The World Health Organization has revealed that poverty is one of the major cause of mental illness. Yes, this is again an added factor of stress leading to mental health malady in women. JR Thorpe further writes that anybody who reads the news knows that women are more poverty-stricken than men worldwide; the UN estimates that 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people in grinding poverty worldwide are female. A study in 1990 showed that, unsurprisingly, the stresses of poverty and deprivation are pretty conclusively linked to the development of mental illness, and the vulnerability of women puts them particularly at risk.


Female hormones play another critical role as a mental fitness indicator in women. The imbalances play havoc in the minds of a woman when she undergoes menarche. Post partum depression is also very common. The hormones can also be labeled as notorious, leading to depression, panic attacks, and anxiety when a woman hits her menopause.


Professor Freeman says “If we think of stress as a chisel striking a rock…the blows women receive from the environment may sometimes be stronger (think childhood sexual abuse), more persistent (think social role burden), and differently angled (think relationships). This might explain why women experience more psychological problems than men. But where exactly the rock splits — that is, the specific disorder that develops — may depend on psychological and biological fault lines. And perhaps these fault lines differ by gender.” One of those fault lines, it seems, may be receptors for stress hormones.


To summarize, we can say poverty, abuse, juggling between multiple roles, hormonal and chemical imbalance are some of the common factors for the rise in mental ailment in women.


I go back to the three women I had started my narration with. All three had been victims of abuse, poverty and marital discord at some point in their life. In closure I make another request to all women, it’s time we consider mental illness as a real illness and that it is no more a stigma or taboo. Please open up and share your sorrows which will aid in healing you before you turn into a patient with chronic psychiatric ailment. And a reminder to this misogynist society, stop sexism and stigmatizing a woman who is suffering from mental illness.





Rimli Bhattacharya

Rimli Bhattacharya has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA in supply chain management. Her writing has appeared in several magazines, engineering journals, blogs, the Times of India, and in the anthology Book of Light. She is also a trained classical dancer to genres Kathak and Odissi and is based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets @rimli76.

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