An Article by Tanya Vasunia, Psychologist & Case Coordinator, Mpower
As the waves of the feminist movement wash over Indian society, majority of women cannot help but take a step back and observe their positions and roles in the workforce as well as the home. While there is a wide scale acknowledgement that the roles of women within the boundaries of society are ever increasing, there is almost a complete lack of awareness of the unsustainable nature of the ever evolving role of the modern woman.
“I feel like I am constantly juggling, constantly moving, constantly scared. I pick up kids, reply to work emails, while planning family time and keeping in touch with my parents and taking care of his mother… I do not see a break in sight and I am terrified that I am going to drop the ball.” (Madhavi age 40. Please note the person’s name has been changed in order to maintain confidentiality and abide by an ethical code of conduct.)
As Madhavi sat before me and described a series of anxiety attacks she had been experiencing in the last three months. It dawned on me that while life is never simple there are factors that make it more complicated and unfortunately gender is one of them. The cultural narrative which is filled with expectations and unrealistic standards definitely plays a role in increasing a women’s vulnerability to mental health concerns. The World Health Organisation acknowledges that gender plays a significant factor with regards to prognosis, diagnosis and treatment within the field of mental health. Given the information previously stated one begs to ask the question: So what is it about being a woman in the 21st century that puts us at risk of developing poor mental health.
A study conducted by Panigrali et. al (2014) in Bhubaneshwar reported 32.9% of the 240 women they surveyed had suffered from poor mental health. Of the 32.9% only 10% sought professional assistance to manage the same. Poor mental health can be allotted to a number of factors both physiological as well as environmental.
Physiologically a woman’s body goes through more extreme changes; puberty, pregnancy, labor and menopause. Each stage involves changes in the hormones which in turn effect dominant neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and GABA. Eventually brain regions which express high density in estrogen and progesterone receptors such as the Amygdala and hypothalamus get effected and thus directly impact the mind and body. While these transitions take place women are expected to maintain high levels of productivity, while at the same time displaying minimum moodiness, patience and supportiveness to their partner and their families. This combination of biological factors coupled with environmental stress make it the ideal landscape for mental health concerns to take root and blossom.
Within the professional environment our demands from women continue to grow but our understanding of their capacity and emotional labor remains stagnant. Emotional Labor is a term coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild which sheds light on the effort emotional regulation requires from an individual. The cost of continues emotional labor is poor mental health.
The truth is there isn’t a weaker gender but there is bilateral hierarchical division of gender. Within the context of a modern patriarchal social structure where a women’s role is not only nurture, reproduce but also provide, there is an unrealistic maintenance of balance being expected. It is this expectation of being a jack of all trades which forces women to feel pressurized, isolated and vulnerable. Indian mythology glorifies the power of the female gender but ultimately it is she who is sacrificed. Whether it is the Ramayan or the Mahabharat it is only when the female protagonist is sacrificed or gone does her male counter-part appreciate or value her. Perhaps somewhere the same historical narrative is repeating itself.