Mental Health: Investing in women’s mental health

Mental health is a critical component of individual, family, community and national wellbeing and prosperity.

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Mental health is a critical component of individual, family, community and national wellbeing and prosperity.

Women are disproportionately affected by many mental health challenges compared to men and this has a detrimental effect on women’s health and wellbeing.

As we commemorate International Women’s Day this coming week, let us reflect on what we can do as communities and as a nation to invest in women’s mental wellbeing and improve the quality of life of women.

What factors influence women’s mental health?

  1. Biological factors include hormonal changes linked to the menstrual cycle, the massive biological changes related to pregnancy and childbirth, the physical and psychological changes of menopause
  2. Psychological factors include poor self-image and body image issues that women often face, low self-esteem, maladaptive responses to life challenges and to stress
  3. Social factors include financial dependency and poverty, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, the burden of multiple, often unacknowledged and unpaid gender based work, the challenges of infertility that is often blamed on women, societal pressure to meet cultural, beauty and other standards
  4. Spiritual factors may include challenges with one’s sense of purpose and meaning in life, women often get swallowed up in the concerns and cares of children and family and may feel lost when these responsibilities eventually pass.

Common mental health challenges in women

  1. Anxiety symptoms of irritability, emotional and physical tension, poor concentration and panic occur more frequently in women than in men.
  2. Depression causes sadness, fatigue, loss of motivation and drive, helplessness, hopeless and thoughts of self-harm. Depression occurs more frequently in women compared to men and affects 10% of pregnant women and up to 20% of post-partum women
  3. Premenstrual symptoms an premenstrual dysphoria can have a devastating effect on women’s quality of life during their reproductive years
  4. Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur in up to 50% of women who are sexually assaulted and interpersonal violence of this nature results in PTSD when compared to incidental trauma such as being involved in an accident

Consequences of poor mental health in women

  1. Decreased quality of life for women, decreased productivity and subsequent effects
  2. Decreased quality of life for the families of affected women
  3. Detrimental effect on child physical and psychological development
  4. Increased risk of neglect and abuse of children

How can we invest in women’s mental health and wellbeing?

  1. Improving self awareness among women on the unique mental health challenges faced by women and knowing when to seek for help
  2. Strengthening family and community support structures for women
  3. Improving responsiveness of health systems to the emotional and psychological needs of women
  4. Improving access to affordable, integrated mental health care services
  5. Supporting mental health interventions for men as part of reducing gender based violence and maltreatment of women.

If you think that you or a woman that you know may be experiencing a mental health problem, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

  • Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse is a consultant psychiatrist. Feedback:  WhatsApp: +263777727332


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