Socialisation and Women’s Mental Health

Life on Earth isn’t easy for all of us. Being a woman comes with its own set of unique struggles. It entails being ten times more likely to have an adolescent eating disorder than men, and on top of that, the likelihood of experiencing depression, anxiety, adjustment, and somatoform conditions far surpasses that of men (Fisher, 2017).

So what are the reasons underlying these alarming statistics? Could it be hormones? Brain size? Or something else? According to Astbury and Cabral de Mello (2000), biology has a hand in this dilemma – however, this simple theory doesn’t explain everything.

We could turn to the long-told story about women’s baseline psychology being ‘crazy’, where just the word, ‘woman’, is synonymous with ‘emotional’ and ‘neurotic’. Astbury and Cabral de Mello (2000) think that we can better explain this stereotype of the over-thinkers as socialisation. After all, haven’t women been represented historically to be passive and to have less agency? In a broad brush stroke: quashing down the need for autonomy and self-expression into worry and neurotic behaviour sounds like quite a logical pathway.

So what exactly does socialisation have to do with women’s mental health? Socialisation is the way we all learn to behave in a society. Socialisation can mean learning how to fit into social groups or how we relate to our elders, but there is a large portion of females in the world who will at one stage of their life be abused.

In fact, 36% of girls have experienced sexual abuse (Finkelhor & Dziuba-Leatherman, 1994) and there is a high number of women who experience domestic violence. These are predictors of depression, anxiety, trauma symptoms, suicidal ideas, and substance abuse (Astbury & Cabral de Mello, 2000).

Women at one stage of their life are highly likely to be caregivers, whether that be for their own children, grandchildren, or a parent. For centuries, women have been the caregiver, an unpaid but full time role as a parent, and they have done it gratefully. Studies by Cannuscio, Jones, Kawachi, Colditz, Berkman and Rimm (2002) have however found that women who provide a minimum of 36 hours of intense care a week were more likely than those who don’t provide care to suffer from depression or anxiety, by a massive six-fold increase.

For a lot of women, socialisation increases risk of mental illness across cultures and socioeconomic status (Fisher, 2017). So what can we do about this?

One interpretation could be that to help our female loved ones, we need to take a step back and consider their context before we assume that, well, it’s just that time of the month.

Our message from BayPsych is that the fight that you as a woman battle everyday isn’t because of something innately wrong with you; it’s the grittier, insidious parts of the life as a woman that is wrong.

The way the world is won’t change anytime soon, but the psychologists at BayPsych Consultants understand that we can try every day to cope, be stronger, and create a better world around us. If you feel that you’re struggling to cope with life, please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 3488 0483, or email us at admin@baypsych.com.au.

By Chelsea Perks

References:

Astbury, J., & Cabral de Mello, M. (2000). Women’s mental health: An evidence based review. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Cannuscio, C. C., Jones, C., Kawachi, I., Colditz, G. A., Berkman, L., & Rimm, E. (2002). Reverberations of family illness: A longitudinal assessment of informal caregiving and mental health status in the nurses’ health study. American Journal of Public Health, 92, 1305-11

Finkelhor, D., & Dziuba-Leatherman, J. (1994). Children as victims of violence: A national survey. Pediatrics, 94, 413-20

Fisher, J. (2017) InPsych: Women and Mental Health

Recent Posts