Double Discrimination: Plight of Women with Mental Illness

23 May 2020 / By R&D

It's not a new fact that India is a patriarchal society where women rarely have freedom of speech, expression or equality. Along with the obvious physical differences which favor the men, women tend to face a wide variety of psychological and emotional issues stemming from various sources. The society, being one of the MAJOR contributor in precipitating mental illnesses in women. According to a recent statistic by WHO (2019) Depressive disorders account for close to 41.9% of the disability from neuropsychiatric disorders among women compared to 29.3% among men.

A women with mental illness is prone to double discrimination. One, for being mentally ill which is anyway stigmatized by the society, and second, for being a woman. This double edged sword leads to a downward spiral due to which India accounts for 37 percent of global female suicides (Lancet Public Health, 2018).

Ways in which women face discrimination for being mentally unhealthy-

  1. Institutionalization

Most family members and police officials find it easier to put a woman in institutions, i.e. 'paagal-khaanas' which are extremely dilapidated and have no quality of life for their patients. This is because they feel a woman is anyway not contributing to the income of the family and isn't doing her job as a caregiver.

  1. Violence

The list of violence is extremely long. Physical violence at home from their husbands and parents to violence in institutions through forceful electro-convulsive therapy and rape is very common. Other forms of violence include mental torture, verbal abuse and humiliation.

  1. Abandonment

Madness certificates issued by mental health professionals are used by husbands or in-laws to divorce or throw out wives from their matrimonial homes, according to a 2009 research paper published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry by J.K. Trivedi. As a result, she's sent back to her parents' house and becomes a burden, an additional mouth to feed. If she's divorced, then the prejudice is tripled.

  1. Social Ostracism

This can range from passive- aggressive "silent treatment" at home or blatant discrimination when seeking education or employment. Women are more often than not, refused from getting treated for their illnesses, making them more vulnerable to develop self esteem issues. To a woman, the whole society seems to reject her leading to dejection, rumination and loneliness.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. Going into the intricacies of prejudice faced by women, an insurmountable number of issues come up.

The solution to this issue has to do with the mindset which sees women as inferior to men. This is going to be a long process as India has always been favoring men. Secondly, stigma against mental illness needs to be addressed so more people acknowledge the pain and suffering of others. These two can only be done through awareness and education. Lastly, a drastic change is required in the public health policies. From more women assistance cells, shelters and good quality (and affordable) institutions to reservation of women in employment and educational settings so that they have a way to be independent.

It is definitely going to be a long road to bringing about a lasting change but let's start with acknowledging our unconscious biases and move towards equality for all.

References

World Health Organization (2019) Gender and women's mental health.

Campana, F. (2019) Why does India account for 37 percent of female suicides? Retrieved from here  

Masoodi, A. (2017) India’s mentally ill women face twin prejudices. Retrieved from- here

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