A review of women’s mental health in India

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It is well reported in mental health research now that women are more vulnerable to having mental health problems. Many of the causes for this vulnerability are social adjustment factors, hormonal factors, violence and abuse. Currently more women are facing mental health troubles and therefore seeking professional help with psychiatrists and therapists. Other risk factors associated with mental health disorders in women are poverty, inequality and social disadvantage.

This article shall cover how prevalent are different mental health disorders amongst women and the possible causes that might be leading to it. The mental health disorders that shall be discussed in this article are depression, anxiety, mood and behavioural changes, suicide and other severe mental illnesses.

Depression

Over the last few decades, awareness about depression has increased rapidly. Although, there is still stigma existing for treatment of depression. The prevalence of depression in India accounts close to 41.9% of the disability among women compared to 29.3% among men. Unipolar depression, becoming a leading cause of global disability, is twice as common in females. One of the most common factors is hormonal changes due to reproductive cycles that play an important role in women’s increased vulnerability to depression. Moreover, women are more likely to present with symptoms such as increased appetite and weight gain when suffering with depression. Research has also shown that 20 percent of Indian mothers are likely to be affected by postpartum depression.

Anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health disorder that is characterized by excessive and persistent worrying about common occurrences. Individuals suffering from GAD have difficulty controlling their worries that can cause restlessness and lack of concentration. Women have higher risk for developing GAD, 2-3 times higher than males. Furthermore, females with anxiety have greater severity of symptoms, comorbid with depression often.  According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO), women are also more likely to experience trauma, often by way of sexual assault or abuse, and therefore tend to suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Not to forget, eating disorders, which also shows symptoms of anxiety, is also more common amongst women and teenagers.

Suicide

Self harm behaviour is also more common in women than men, universally. In India, women outnumber men in attempting and committing suicide. Two other studied findings correlating with Indian women attempting suicide are women belonging to nuclear families and women married at a young age. Common mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, violence in the form of sexual coercion, dowry disputes, disturbed interpersonal relationships, quarrels with spouse or parents-in-law, disturbed interpersonal relationships, followed by psychiatric disorders and physical illnesses, can lead to suicidal thinking and behaviour amongst women.

Mood and Behavioural Problem

Mood and behavioural changes are very common in women during late pregnancy and postpartum period. Incidence of postpartum depression is also now rising as its awareness has led people to seek help. Research has also shown that 20 percent of Indian mothers are likely to be affected by postpartum depression.

Menstrual cycles are associated with mood and behavioural problems as well. Symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, anxiety, tension, migraine, sleep disturbances, sadness, dysphoria, and the lack of concentration occur more frequently during the premenstrual and menstrual phase.

Severe Mental Illnesses

Research studies have found frequent episodes of depression in women diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Also, a seasonal pattern of mood disturbances is more prevalent amongst women . In case of schizophrenia, there is a later age of onset of disorder but better course and outcome for women than men. Less than 2% of Indian population is affected with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and there is no significant gender difference in terms of prevalence and incidence rate.  

This “International Women’s Day”,  let’s be more aware about the importance of mental health needs and acknowledge the different support that is required by women. It is only through understanding and awareness that one can seek support and improve one’s mental health and quality of living.

References:

Malhotra, S., & Shah, R. (2015). Women and mental health in India: An overview. Indian journal of psychiatry, 57(Suppl 2), S205–S211. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.161479

Pigott TA. Women’s Mental Health – A Comprehensive Textbook. In: Kornstein SG, Clayton AH, editors. The Gulliford Press: New York; 2002. pp. 195–22

https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/genderwomen/en/


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