Skip to main content

Mental illness: Women at higher risk due to subjectivities of environment, social factors

By IMPRI Team

The gendered nuances of mental health have been largely misunderstood. To address these knowledge gaps, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a special talk under the #WebPolicyTalk series: The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on the topic Women and ‘Mental Health’. The speaker for the session was Prof Rachana Johri, Director, Centre for Psychotherapy and Clinical Research, Dr B.R. Ambedkar University, New Delhi.
The event was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel Visiting Professor, IMPRI and Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. The other esteemed discussants included Dr Amrita Nandy, Researcher and writer on gender, rights and culture and an Adjunct Lecturer, Ambedkar University, New Delhi, Dr Cicilia Chettiar, Head, Department of Psychology, Maniben Nanavati Women’s College, Mumbai, and Dr Aparna Joshi, Assistant Professor, School of Human Ecology, and Project Director, iCALL & Sukoon, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.
Introduction
The chair for the discussion, Prof Vibhuti Patel began the discussion by stressing the need to understand mental health in relation to contemporary socio-cultural ethos in Indian society and the status of women in the family, community and society. She emphasized the need to seriously reflect on critical social determinants of mental health, measures for promotion and protection of mental health, and the well-being of the people as well as methods to foster resilience to stress and adversity. The notions of femininity, masculinity heteronormativity and gender binary need to be updated.
She highlighted the differential impact of mental stress as per the intersectional inequality. She also discussed how power and control over socio-economic cultural factors can impact the mental health status, treatment in society, susceptibility and exposure to specific mental health risks. Elucidating the meaning of a gender-responsive approach to the mental health of women, Prof Patel says that this approach involves distinguishing between biological and socio-cultural factors while simultaneously exploring their interplay and also being sensitive to how gender inequality affects mental health outcomes. Highlighting the deplorably low work participation rate of 20% in India, Prof Patel mapped out three reasons- glass ceiling phenomena, class cliff phenomena and sticky floor phenomena which lead to low participation by women and how this impacts their mental health.
She asserted the need to be sensitive about intersectional locations of women and multiple burdens of caste, class, religion, gender, geographic location and education, which are shouldered by Indian women. Talking about the etic approach which uses diagnostic categories of mental illness such as neurosis, schizophrenia, psychosis, phobia etc., Prof Patel says that this categorization is detrimental for women as psychiatric labelling doesn’t take cognizance of the material reality faced by women on a day-to-day experiential level and also obscures social realities. Whereas, the emic approach emphasizes cross-cultural psychiatry and evaluates mental illness from within a culture.

The Indian Scenario

The speaker for the session, Prof Rachana Johri drew upon her reflections as a critical feminist psychologist who has been closely associated with those who suffer from mental illness and those working towards the alleviation of such distress. She believes that psychological distress is an inevitable aspect of human life. For women, the feminist slogan, ‘the personal is political’ is nowhere more evident than in their engagements with questions of psychological suffering. Although mental health is often thought to be the purview of psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists and others, in reality, the terrain can best be understood through a highly interdisciplinary perspective that draws from sociology feminism, psychoanalysis, disability theory as well as movements such as the LGBTQ movement, global mental health movement, disability movement.
Prof Johri began with a discussion by deconstructing the idea of mental health. She critically analyzed the meaning of the terms ‘health’ and ‘mental’. Health has been defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Adding to this, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities and can cope with the normal stresses of life, s/he can work productively and contribute to the community. She then talked about the role of diagnosis in mental health illness. Prof Johri also elucidated how social constructions affect the production of disorders, for example, homosexuality was considered to be a ‘disorder’ earlier.
Prof Johri also assessed the role played by gender in naming disorders and several have reference to women, examples being postnatal depression. She also highlighted the close relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the diagnostic framework, which has been a matter of concern, especially for women who have often been medicated for resisting cultural expectations. Explaining the changes in the conceptualization of mental health, Prof Johri asserted the need to move away from the idea of mental illness to that of psychosocial disability. Today, the idea of mental health includes a wide range of experiences ranging from mild time-limited distress to chronic, progressive and severely disabling conditions.
In India, statistics from NMHS indicate that 13.9% of the population suffers from mental illness, while women are at a higher risk due to the subjectivities of the environment and social factors. Prof Johri believes that the women’s movement in India has not accepted the problem of psychological distress and this stems from the belief that an analysis of social oppression is sufficient to overcome this distress. She analyzed how continuous subjection to intentional or unintentional violence, leads women to develop anxiety and depression. Iterating how the self-definition adopted for women as ‘caretakers’ can be psychologically draining, Prof Johri advocates for women to develop a mental health voice within themselves and look for alternative spaces for their ‘self’.
Stressing on the preconditions of safety, freedom, and access, Prof Johri believes that these three crucial factors create the potential for positive wellbeing in women. She commented that The Mental Health Act, of 2017 is in the right direction, however, there is a greater need for clarity on the rights of people with serious psychosocial disabilities. She says that the mental health spectrum involves a whole range of disabilities, so there is a need to orient policymaking towards all issues, while simultaneously focusing on individual issues. The budget allocations on mental health are still far behind, also as WHO indicates, there are 0.7 psychologists per one lakh population.
Access to psychiatric care, good hospitalization, better media portrayal of people with severe psychosocial disabilities, undertaking more research, enhancing community-based support systems, and lastly, not banning spaces which provide healing experiences through spirituality or religion, were some of the suggestions given by Prof Johri.

Reconceptualizing Women’s Mental Health

Dr Aparna Joshi started her discussion by elucidating how the COVID pandemic has brought forth the issue that nobody is spared from the mental health impact. While it was called an equalizer, it was not really so, it brought the pre-existing rifts and the pre-existing disparities of the society and women were one of the most affected members. Explaining how gender intersects with mental health, Dr Joshi conceptualized four ways, firstly, gender is a very critical determinant of stressors that people experience. Secondly, gendered manifestations of mental health concerns; thirdly, help-seeking patterns and utilization of mental health services; lastly consequences of mental health concerns.
Emphasizing the role played by socio-contextual realities, Dr Joshi advocates for a reconceptualization of mental health from biomedical to socio-contextual to disability model, where the society, government and the environment are equally responsible to provide a conducive atmosphere. She suggests a subjective, locally contextualized, “nothing about us without us” method for understanding women’s realities. According to Dr Joshi, this method helps to understand women in their entirety and also addresses the vulnerabilities within vulnerabilities. Suggesting a few policy changes, Dr Joshi says that all future policies must be socio-contextual driven, policies must engage with women’s internal and external realities, there must be an enhanced community-based response, address different stakeholders and also the policies must take caregivers into account.

Being Okay with Not Being Okay

Dr Cicilia Chettiar began by emphasizing the need to make the community-based mental health model into a people’s movement. Talking about her work, she asserted the need to launch emotional skill development programs for the emotional upskilling of women and men. She also calls out on the ‘superwoman’ model, a model where women believe that they have to be good at everything, she says that this idea is a making of the misinterpretation of feminism.
A very important point highlighted by Dr Chettiar was that women have created certain mental blocks for themselves which often raise questions of inadequacy and incompetence, which in turn creates a whole set of disorders. To raise women’s awareness of the ‘self’ is the direction that the mental health narrative must go towards. She also believes that the aim of therapy is to let women know that they are not the best version of themselves and that they are not ‘bad’ if they aren’t following the norm. In the end, she reiterated that it is acceptable to not function in typical ways or norms that other women have already been following, summing up, it is okay to not be okay.

Food for Thought

Ending the insightful and enriching discussion, Dr Amrita Nandy posed some questions by drawing from the insights shared by Prof Rachana Johri, where she says that women’s lives may seem healthy when they go on functioning in the face of very severe violence and abuse, Dr Nandy deliberated on how to light the path for women, how to take off these masks before the struggles become overwhelmingly difficult. She also questioned how one reimagines the politics that marries the feminist, with the spiritual.
---
Acknowledgement: Riya Shah, research intern at IMPRI

Comments

TRENDING

Vishwanath has been unfairly excluded from global list of 100 best cricketers

By Harsh Thakor  Gundappa Vishwanath scaled zones in batting artistry or wizardry unparalleled amongst Indian batsmen. The best of his batting was a manifestation of the divine. He was also the epitome of cricketing sportsmanship. Sadly 40 years ago he unceremoniously bid farewell to the International cricket world, after the concluding test at Karachi in 1982-83., in January end. Very hard to visualise a character like Vishwanath being reborn today His memories are embedded in cricket lovers today when sportsmanship and grace have virtually been relegated to oblivion with the game of cricket turned into a commercial commodity. Today agro and unsporting behaviour is a routine feature Vishy shimmered cricket’s spirituality. His behaviour on the cricket field was grace personified, No one in his age defined cricket more as a gentleman’s game, than Vishy. Vishwanath could execute strokes that were surreal with his steel wrists. His strokeplay resembled the touches of a painter’s brush,

Abrogation of Art 370: Increasing alienation, relentless repression, simmering conflict

One year after the abrogation by the Central Government of Art. 370 in Kashmir, what is the situation in the Valley. Have the promises of peace, normalcy and development been realised? What is the current status in the Valley? Here is a detailed note by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties , “Jammu & Kashmir: One Year after Abrogation of Art. 370: Increasing Alienation, Relentless Repression, Simmering Conflict”:

Reproductive, conjugal rights of women in India amidst debate of uniform civil code

By IMPRI Team  A Three-Day Immersive Online Legal Awareness and Certificate Training Course on “Reproductive and Conjugal Rights of Women in India” is an initiative of the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, and ran for three consecutive days starting from December 22, 2022 to December 24, 2022. The online paid certification was aimed to provide attendees with an enriching experience on the gender discourse with a special focus on women’s rights and the much-discussed reproductive rights in India.

Covid jabs: Pretexts cited to justify young, healthy succumbing to heart attacks

By Jay Ihsan   Truth is stranger than fiction – when dedicated doctors raised the red flag against the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, they were persecuted and their concerns barred from being heard. These honest doctors unequivocally made it known the Moderna Pfizer vaccines injure the heart and human body. One of them, Dr Peter McCullough, an American cardiologist, has repeatedly issued the clarion call to people to reject these harmful vaccines. An equally alarmed World Council for Health said the harmful Covid-19 vaccines should be removed from the market and the global inoculation must be stopped. “In Japan the vaccines were not mandated or made compulsory. The vaccines are not safe or effective enough to mandate them. The day the vaccines go away will be a day of celebration,” Dr Mccullough had lamented during an interview with India’s media outfit, Qvive several months ago. Meanwhile, the number of people jabbed with the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines died soon after or have developed lifelong

Gender gap 17%, SC and ST levels of education between 7% to 14% below upper classes

By IMPRI Team  The treatment of school education in a holistic manner and improving school effectiveness in terms of equal opportunities for schooling and learning outcomes has been the aspiration of all and multiple challenges are faced to maintain and provide proper education. On the occasion of India@75: Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, as part of its series- the State of Education- #EducationDialogue, #IMPRI Center for ICT for Development (CICTD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organised a special deliberation on The State of School Education In India with Prof Muchkund Dubey, who is the President of the Council for Social Development, New Delhi. The moderator for the event, Dr Simi Mehta CEO and Editorial Director of the IMPRI. The chair of the event was Prof Jandhyala B.G. Tilak, an Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) National Fellow, the Distinguished Professor at the Council for Social Development, New Delhi and also a Former Professor & Vice-Ch

Rahul Dravid exhibited selflessness in heights unscaled by any other Indian batsman

By Harsh Thakor*  On January 11th maestro Rahul Dravid turned 50. No Indian batsmen were ever more of an embodiment of temperament or grit.as Rahul Dravid. Dravid was the best ambassador of sportsmanship in cricket in his day and age. In his time no Asian batsmen did what the doctor ordered, to the extent of Dravid. Dravid was manifestation of single-mindedess, tenacity and selflessness in sport. One hardly has an adjective to the ice coolness and craft Dravid exhibited in adjusting to the given situation. Rarely did any batsmen exhibit such a clinical o methodical approach to batting.

NHRC blindly followed BSF status report on fencing farmland off Indo-Bangladesh border

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) writes an open letter of protest against the action taken status report on restriction imposed by the BSF personnel upon the villagers of Changmari near Indo-Bangladesh border: *** I have the honour to inform you that we received one action taken status report dated 11.01.2023 from your Commission in respect of the above referred case from where it is revealed that your authority closed the case based on the report of the concerned authorities. In this connection I again raise my voice as the enquiry in respect of the above referred case was not properly conducted. Hence I submit this open letter of protest for the ends of justice. From the action taken status report of the Commission dated 11.01.2023 it is reported that concerned authority submitted a report dated 18.01.2022 where it is reported that the concerned area comes under the OPS responsibility of BOP Chengmari, 62 Bn BSF and is highly susceptible to trans-bo

Data analytics: How scientific enquiry process impacts quality of policy research

By IMPRI Team  Given the multidimensionality of policy and impact research, tech-driven policy prescriptions are playing a dominant role in the 21st century. As such, data analytics have become integral in this space. IMPRI Generation Alpha Data Centre (GenAlphaDC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute New Delhi has successfully conducted a #WebPolicyTalk 6-Week Immersive Online Hands-on Certificate Training Course on Data Analytics for Policy Research, spanning over 6-consecutive Saturdays from October 15th to November 19th, 2022. Along with this, datasets for hands-on learning were also provided for data analysis and learning. Participants were required to make a submission for evaluation at the end of the course, to obtain the certificate. This course comprised hands-on data learning sessions and various expert sessions on data discourses. The course especially catered to data and policy enthusiasts – including students, professionals, researchers, and other individuals lo

Brutal assault on Delhi Univ students as fear grips present rulers on rise of dissent

By Arhaan Baaghi  Various democratic student organizations (bsCEM, fraternity, DSU, SIO, AIRSO) had planned a screening of the BBC documentary "India: The Modi Question" in the Delhi University Arts Faculty, but the guards of the university and the Delhi police along with paramilitary forcefully detained the students just because we were trying to watch a documentary that scrutinizes the role of Modi in 2002 Gujarat riots. At first when the students started screening the documentary, the electricity of the department building was cut down. Students were brutally beaten by the police and university guards. Female students were also brutally manhandled and beaten. This whole incident shows the Brahmanical Hindutva fascist nature of the government and the university authority that is working as its puppet. An activist of bsCEM was manhandled by a male security guard, who tried to pull out his T shirt. Also various female activist were dragged by male security guards and their h

Great march of migrants during lockdown: Lessons not learned, missed opportunities

By IMPRI Team  A panel discussion on “The Great March of Migrants During The National Lockdown: Lessons Not Learned and Missed Opportunities” was organized by the #IMPRI Center for Human Centre for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi on the occasion of International Migrants Day, i.e December 18, 2022. Inaugurating the session, Ms Aanchal Kumari, a researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panellists. The event was moderated by Dr Devender Singh, a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI. The panellists included Prof. R.B Bhagat, Professor and Head, Department of Migration and Urban Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai; Prof Arun Kumar, Distinguished Economist, a Former Professor Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi and Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Chair Professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi; Ms Akriti Bhatia, Founder of People