Mental Health and Women


by Rashi Sinha

Without making assumptions from the title, if you were to name the biggest threat to the health of people all over the world, what would your answer be? And stop right there if you are debating between AIDS and cancer. Demographic projections suggest mental illness as one of them, which is quite turning into a reality. But what exactly do we mean when we say a person should be mentally healthy?

Determinants of mental health

¨    Rapid social changes

¨    Stressful work conditions

¨    Gender discrimination

¨    Social exclusion

¨    Unhealthy lifestyle

¨    Risks of violence

¨    Physical ill health

¨    Personality factors

¨   Genetic traits




What is mental health?

Citing the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) answer to this most common question,  ‘Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’

Prevalence of mental disorders

The prevalence of mental illness in the community (both rural and urban) is higher among women as reflected in studies done in different parts of the country.  However, a comparison between males and females in the occurrence of severe and common mental disorders shows a higher prevalence of severe mental illness among males as opposed to common mental illness where the reverse is true. Here, severe mental illness is classified as problematic behaviour such as that found in schizophrenia, depressive psychoses, mania, epilepsy, mental retardation and organic brain syndromes whereas common mental illness includes major depression, hysterias, obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, phobia and somatisation disorders.

The Gender Factor

As against the belief of majority of the population in India, the rationale for this illness cannot always be stressed to menstrual problems. It is much beyond that biological line that people draw.

While studying the psychological construct of mental health, we come to understand that it is deeply embedded within an individual’s social and socioeconomic relationships. Since women worldwide, and more so in India, face gender-based discrimination at every stage of their lives, their psychological well-being becomes a cause for great concern. In addition, the routine of women’s lives render them at risk to experience more stress than men. This reflects the greater number of social roles women fulfill as wife, mother, daughter, care-giver and an employee. Even violence against women affects both their physical and mental health. The psychological effects can range from shock, anxiety, fear, and humiliation to post traumatic stress disorder. Also, all the studies show greater distress in married women as compared to married men and greater distress in single women as compared to single men.


Depression is a serious and pervasive mood disorder. Women are twice as likely to develop clinical depression as men. Up to one in four women is likely to have an episode of major depression at some point in life. Apart from hormonal fluctuations, many psychological and social aspects explain the gender effect.

Continuum of Body-Image Problems

Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa are eating disorders characterized by immoderate food restriction and irrational fear of gaining weight, as well as a distorted body self-perception. While it can affect men and women of any age, race, and socioeconomic and cultural background, anorexia nervosa occurs in 10 times more females than males.

Anxiety Disorders

This covers several different forms of a type of common psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive rumination, worrying, uneasiness, apprehension and fear about future uncertainties either based on real or imagined events, which may affect both physical and psychological health.



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