Mental Health Crisis in India

More than 50 million people in India suffer from a mental illness.  In 2011, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at 36 per cent.  According to doctors, roughly 10 per cent of India’s population suffers from depression – MGMH

 

Women with mental illness are treated as less than human.  They are dumped, abandoned and abused.  If there are any signs of mental illness, a woman is put in a mental hospital with no chance of getting out.  Men can go back home while women are there for life.  In the following video, we meet a woman whose husband had her institutionalized although she had no history of mental illness.  Here’s a story of a mentally ill woman whose husband built a case against her so that he could get custody of their children after divorcing her.

It is not surprising that women suffer from depression at higher rates than men.  They have to deal with gender inequality, violence, lack of paid employment, lack of education, excessive spousal alcohol use and poverty.  Mothers are blamed for the birth of a female child and many face pressure to have male children.  Women are diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, oftentimes, following the birth of their children.  The children are often removed from the ill mother’s care and this results in further distress for her. Indian women have higher rates of suicide than women in most developed countries and a higher rate of suicide compared to men in India.  Depression is one of the most common reasons for suicide among Indian women.

Mental health in India carries with it a stigma, especially if the person suffering from mental illness is a woman.  According to MGMH (Movement for Global Mental Health), in rural India, it is common to see people taking their children to temples and faith-healers instead of hospitals and doctors, especially in cases of mental health.  Mental health was something that was talked about in hushed tones.  Thankfully, it is no longer being swept under the rug.  People are coming forward.  Deepika Padukone stunned her fans last year when she admitted that she suffered from anxiety and depression.

At the time the news broke, she was one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. It took tremendous courage for her to disclose her illness, especially since people diagnosed with mental illness face discrimination.  Deepika has since launched the Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness about mental health issues and as a result many celebrities were inspired to come out in the open and address the need to talk about mental health.  Varun Dhawan admitted that he was depressed during the making of Badlapur and Honey Singh revealed that he has been undergoing therapy for bipolar disorder.

Sadly, those living with mental illness are victims of a cruel fate.  They are often locked away and stripped of their basic human rights in state-run institutions that are under-staffed. In an article, titled Mentally Ill Suffer a Horrible Fate in India posted on the site for Deutsche Welle (DW), most state run mental hospitals are in deplorable conditions. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported that out of the 43 government mental hospitals in India, less than half a dozen are in a “livable” condition”.

There are doctors in charge of these hospitals who have no business being there.  “These doctors don’t understand the intricacies of a psychiatric illnesses and the comprehensive care the patients require,” said a psychiatrist working in a state-run mental hospital in Uttar Pradesh.

And in the midst of the crisis of hospitals not providing the conditions and care the patients need, are quack healers who are profiting from this.  According to a study by Dr. Shiv Gautam, former superintendent of Jaipur Mental Hospital, 68 per cent of the mentally ill are taken to faith healers before a psychiatrist.  “The reason, besides superstition, is that most general medicine doctors fail to diagnose psychiatric illness,” Gautam said. “A mentally ill patient displays symptoms which superstitious people believe are paranormal,” he added. “Such patients are tortured, chained and used for extracting money from their families.”  Hema, who was suffering from Schizophrenia was believed to have an evil spirit.  Her family took her to Datar Sharif Dargah where she spent a year locked up.  It wasn’t until her condition deteriorated that she was brought to Dr. Gautam.  In 15 days, she began to improve and a month later she was normal.

In other cases, the mentally ill are subjected to one of these horrific ordeals:  whipping, caning, inhaling burnt chili smoke, having their eyes smeared with chili paste or having their eyes branded with red, hot coins.  There are laws banning this practice, however, many dargahs and temples keep the patients chained.  Some of them spend the rest of their lives like this.  In 2001, 26 patients perished in a fire at a dargah in a coastal village because they couldn’t escape the blaze since they were chained.  What a horrific and senseless tragedy.

Families of mentally ill people opt for dumping them.  This means that they are dumped into an asylum where the conditions are not fit for a human.  When an illegal asylum was raided, they found thirty-five men and six boys living in inhuman conditions.  The stench from their unwashed bodies and the excrement drove neighbors to alert the health department.  Naked and chained inmates were discovered, dumped there by their families after they paid the asylum owner.  Some of these poor souls were found crawling in their excrement, some even consuming it.  On their bodies were marks of torture.  Some had surgical scars on their backs, leading to allegations that the asylum had links to kidney theft.  78 patients had entered the asylum but only 41 were found during the raid.

Other patients are dumped in jungles or forests ranges.  Their families pay lorry drivers to drop them.  Women and children are among these victims and in some cases, the females are raped by the drivers before being dumped.  Social activist Murugan S. who has rescued countless mentally ill people from the streets, cautions us not to judge the families by calling them cruel.  Instead we are to examine what forced them to take such extreme measures.  He believes that system needs to change.

Part of the solution is raising awareness.  The suffering of the mentally ill has been brought to our attention. It is out in the open.  The next thing that needs to be done is to show the superstitious and fearful society that mental illness is nothing to run away from or to be ashamed of.  The person suffering from mental illness needs love, support and most importantly, proper care so that he or she can live a normal life.

The government needs to put something place to ensure that patients are placed in reputable, sanitary facilities that will provide the care that they need and to ban the operation of illegal asylums and the practice of dumping.  Quack healers should be banned from profiting from other people’s suffering.  Husbands should not be allowed to institutionalize their wives if there is no record that they have mental illness.

No one wants to be mentally ill but it is a reality for many people and what they need is to know that they have a platform where they can talk about what is happening with them. Here in Canada, we have Bell Let’s Talk, a wide-reaching, multi-year program designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across the country. It has done so much to fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to get involved in educating themselves and others.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that something will be put in place in India so that attitudes toward mental illness would change and those suffering from it will have a platform where they would not be judged, dumped, abandoned or discriminated but supported and be treated with dignity and open minds.  In the meantime, let’s keep talking and raising awareness.

Talking is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness – Bell, Let’s Talk

 

Sources:  Vice News; Movement of Global Mental Health; Wikipedia; Deutsche Welle

Literacy Saved Her Paycheck

Literacy brings an incredible freedom to women in South Asia; helping them to take care of their families, not be cheated at the marketplace, and be able to read the Bible for themselves – Gospel for Asia

As an avid reader, I can’t imagine not being able to read.  It is one of my favorite things to do.  I loved reading since I was a child.  It led to my other favorite thing–writing.  Being able to read and write can really make a difference.  You can read books, study the Bible, write letters, read recipes, directions, the labels on products in the grocery store and write checks.   These are things that most of us can do but in South Asia, more than 30% of the women are unable to because of illiteracy.

Imagine that you are illiterate and have no opportunity for an education. Imagine the struggles you face as you try to make ends meet while your husband spends your earnings on alcohol.  This was Dayita’s reality.  She came from a village where few girls received an education.  Being illiterate left her with very few options.  She began sewing clothing to ease her family’s financial situation.  Her husband Kaamil deposited her earnings in the bank but she was horrified when she found out that he was withdrawing her money so that he could buy alcohol.  Desperate, Dayita found someone to help her to open her own bank account but managing it proved to be very difficult because she couldn’t read or write.  She was unable to fill out the deposit and withdrawal forms.  She had to rely on others to help her.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble – Psalm 46:1

God saw that Dayita needed help and He intervened.  He sent Ashna and Neha, believers from the local Women’s Fellowship to start a literacy class in Dayita’s area.  Dayita began attending the sessions because she was determined to keep her hard-earned money safe.  To her surprise, Kaamil supported her.  Ashna taught two hour classes on reading and writing from a Bible based curriculum.  Within two months, Dayita could read and write enough to fill out her bank forms.  She is able to deposit and withdraw money on her own now.  She is able to get around because she can read the names of buses and bus stations.  Thanks to the ministry of Ashna and Neha, Dayita is learning about Jesus and starting to believe in Him.

Thanks be to God, who sees all and knows all and is every ready to help those who are in need, Dayita can enjoy the freedom that literacy brings.  Knowing how to read and write, she doesn’t have to depend on others for help.  She can go to the bank and do a transaction any time she wants.  She can travel without worrying about getting lost.  She can also enjoy the freedom that knowing Jesus brings.

If you are interested in helping other women like Dayita, find out how at this link.  Help to free the women of South Asia from the yoke of illiteracy.

 

Source:  Gospel for Asia

A Mother’s Hidden Legacy

Naomi was a Christian.  She grew up praying to Jesus as a Friend and reading the Bible so that she could get to know Him better.  So great was her love for God that it was natural to believe that when she had children, she would pass on her faith to them.  However, things didn’t turn out quite as she expected.

Naomi’s parents arranged her marriage and although the wedding was held in the church and followed all the Christian traditions, her husband was of a different religion.  Can you imagine being in Naomi’s shoes?  You were raised to love the Lord.  You look forward to going to church and worshipping Him in His sanctuary with others who share your faith.  Then, one day, you are forced to stop going to church because your husband won’t allow you.  And to make matters worse…your husband is an alcoholic.

Shortly after the wedding, Tarak’s alcoholism reared its ugly head.  He had a steady job as a truck cleaner but spent the money he earned on drinks or cigarettes.  As a result it was a struggle just to have the bare necessities.   The struggle only increased when they had Oppilmani and Sadhya, born two years apart.  Now Naomi had two growing children to feed not to mention providing them with clothing and education.   Overwhelmed, she was compelled to reflect on her life before she got married.  With a penitent heart she began to pray.

She didn’t tell Tarak that she repented of her neglect of God or that she was praying for the family’s restoration.  She didn’t tell him that she was praying for him–that he would stop drinking.  Can you imagine how hard it must have been for Naomi to keep these things to herself?  How she must have longed to tell her family about Jesus and how only He could help them.  Then, hope came in the form of Gospel for Asia Pastor Zaafir when  he came to their village.  God heard her prayers and He sent help.

Naomi began to speak to Pastor Zaafir frequently and began attending church again.   As she grew in the Lord, Pastor Zaafir helped her to enroll Oppilmani and Sadhya in the local Bridge of Hope center.  This proved to be a blessing for the children.  They excelled in their studies and learned about Jesus.  How it must have brought joy to their mother who had dreamed of telling them about the Friend she had since she was a child.

The joy was short-lived, however.  Tarak’s animosity returned and he began to verbally abuse his wife when she attended church and insisted that the family follow his religion.  In the wake of this new wave of opposition Naomi attended church less but refused to stop going altogether.  All the while she continued praying for her family even as they were about to face a crisis…

…pray without ceasing – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Tarak’s years of drinking and smoking finally began to take a toll on his health.  What began as asthma quickly turned into something very serious and unmanageable.  How terrifying it must have been for his family when he began vomiting blood.  He couldn’t eat anything.  However, the waves of nausea and the vomiting didn’t stop Tarak from continuing to drink alcohol.   Within a few days, he was taken to the hospital where doctors determined that he had a serious lung infection.  If he didn’t have an operation he would die.  What was the family to do?  For years Tarak had spent his income on alcohol.  There wasn’t enough money for the operation.

Naomi and the children, went home, bracing themselves for a future without her husband.  The children continued to attend the Bridge of Hope center but it didn’t take long for the staff to notice that something was wrong.  When they inquired, Oppilmani told them about his father’s condition and that the family couldn’t pay for the surgery.  The staff offered words of encouragement and hope.  They assured the boy that Jesus could solve his problems and then they decided to visit the family.

The coordinator of the centre went with two social workers and GFA’s pastor Bahurai to the family’s home where they saw an alarmingly thin Tarak who looked much older than his age of 35 years.  The group shared God’s Word and encouraged the family to ask for His mercy.  The Lord spoke to Tarak’s heart and the father confessed his wrongdoings to God.  From that moment on, there was a transformation.  Naomi no longer faced opposition from her husband and she was free to regularly attend prayer meetings.  She, the pastor and other believers prayed for Tarak’s healing.  He began to recover slowly and he opened his heart to the God who was healing him.

Tarak no longer insisted that his family worship his god or protest his wife’s church going.  Instead he brought the children to church.  It took a life-threatening illness for Tarak to know the true God.

God had answered the prayers of a mother who had known Him all of her life.  She had turned back to Him after she was forced to neglect Him–knowing that He was her only Source of comfort, hope and deliverance.  God heard the prayers of a wife who wanted her husband to stop drinking.  He heard the prayers of a mother who wanted her children to worship the true God and go to school.  He heard the prayers of a woman who wanted to free her family from their struggles.

The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective – James 5:16

What a wonderful end to this story.  A man once opposed to wife’s God had embraced Him.  Oppilmani and Sadhya who once worshipped a traditional god was now worshipping the Creator.  They will continue their family’s legacy by raising the next generation to serve the God who had brought them hope amidst adversity.  As for Naomi, she watched the Lord do amazing things for her family.  “Jesus turned our trouble into happiness,” she said, “and we are ever thankful to Jesus.”

You can help to do amazing things for other families like Naomi’s by sponsoring Bridge of Hope children.  Your sponsorship will open the door for children to share Christ’s love with their families.  If you are interested in learning more about Bridge of Hope visit this link.

I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy, For You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversities – Psalm 31:7

 

 

Source:  Gospel for Asia

Living in Slums

I told them that even if their situation seems like a mountain, God is mightier than the problem – Nitya

Can you imagine being so poor that you live in a shack made of cardboard and plastic?  What if you had to struggle daily just to survive?  Imagine sharing a shanty with ten other families because you and your family can’t afford your own space?  This is the reality for people in India who dwell in slums.

25-population-slums

In India, slums are growing rapidly.  Millions are living in extreme poverty and everyday is a struggle for survival.  They are trapped in a world filled with desperation and hopelessness.  Open sewage, polluted water, lack of healthcare, illiteracy, superstition and diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDs are some of the problems they face.  It is a constant battle for them to find or keep a job.  No job meant that they would have to beg, scavenge or turn to prostitution.  It’s worst for them if they were too sick or too old to work because there was no social agency to help them to survive.  This is why many of them turned to alcohol for solace.  When the men drowned their sorrows and fears in alcohol, their wives and children were left to fend for themselves.  One woman who was a tailor had to work outside because there was not enough room in her tiny hut.

People should not be living like this.  And this is why God had to intervene.  He did so through a man named Nitya.  Nitya had a dream about a shack by the sewer.  And he moved into one!  How many of us would leave our nice, comfy, clean homes and families to live in a slum among complete strangers?  Nitya had no reservations.  Why?  He knew that God had called him to serve in the slums.  Sometimes the harvest is in places that we normally wouldn’t imagine ourselves going but when God calls us to go, we go.  Nitya made his home among the slum dwellers and through his actions, demonstrated God’s love and acceptance.

In Nitya’s eyes, these people were God’s children.  God called him and is calling others to share the Good News of Jesus with people who are hurting and are shunned by society.

Watch this video of Nitya–a real life hero who has a true servant’s heart.

God transformed the lives of the people in the slum. Darkness gave way to light and despair turned into hope.  When Nitya found out that children were unable to go to school because their parents could afford to send them, he started a Bridge of Hope centre.  At the centre, children learn about Jesus, receive quality education, medical care and daily meals.

Nitya also began holding worship services.   At first the attendance was low due to lack of interest but now more than 40 people attend.  At each service Nitya teaches them from the Bible and prays for them.  Thankful for the hope they have found in Jesus, believers take part in Communion to remember the great sacrifice He made for them.

One couple’s lives changed dramatically, thanks to the church.  Achal and Malika used to follow their traditional gods and Achal beat Malika but one day she slipped into a coma.  Nitya, his wife and other believers prayed for her and she was healed.  When Achal and Malika saw the Lord’s power, they gave their hearts to Christ.  Today they are among His faithful followers.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” – Romans 10:14, 15

The Goa slum is home to the illegal prostitution trade.  Life seemed hopeless for the people there until a Gospel for Asia missionary team began to visit the area, bringing hope in the form of Gospel literature.

 As I went through the photo gallery of Team Ministers of Slum Area, tears came to my eyes.  It drove home the fact that there are people out there who will gladly accept the Good News if only there were people to share it with them.  These photos touched my heart.

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“Most of the people they meet are open to the Gospel message. Almost immediately they become engrossed in reading the literature.”

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“After he told them the Good News, many raised their hands, indicated that they wanted to follow Jesus. John is the pastor of a GFA-supported church in this area of Goa. He is overjoyed to see so many from the slum become part of the Body of Christ.”

Find out more about Gospel for Asia’s Slum Ministry and see how the work they began in 1999 is still impacting the masses of “desperate people who have no means whatsoever to better their situation or escape their surroundings.”  Share Nitya’s story and take a look at the photos.  Pray for the slum dwellers and the missionaries of the Slum Ministry.  Ask God how you can help.

Source:  Gospel for Asia

Prisha’s Calling

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven – Matthew 5:16

I read Prisha’s story and was touched by the love and compassion she and the other women missionaries showed the people of Punya Basti.  The village was ready for harvest but there were no labourers until God sent Prisha.  She had heard about Punya Basti.

The residents lived in squalor, with no electricity, running water or toilets.  Can you imagine living in such conditions? Although most of the villagers left for months at a time to find low-paying work and beg in other areas, they were still unable to feed their children three meals a day.  They couldn’t afford to sent them to school.  Amidst the squalor, alcohol and drug abuse were major concerns.  Fights frequently broke out.  Animal carcasses and burning waste littered the place, creating a stench so horrific that made outsiders drive recklessly through the village just to get away from it.  Outsiders looked down on the villagers because of their low caste and lack of hygiene and education.

The outsiders remind me of the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ time.  No doubt they would have avoided this village like it were a plague.  They would never set foot in it.  They would put as much distance between themselves and it and condemn the people instead of having compassion on them.  What about us?  We might feel sorry for the people but are we willing to do something to help to change their circumstances?  If God were to call us to go to such a place and minister to the people and share the Gospel, would we be willing to go?  Would we find excuses like Moses? Or would we run in the opposite direction like Jonah?

What would Jesus do?  I think it’s fair to say that He would go into that village and stay with the people.  And I also think the apostle Paul would do the same.  Sometimes God calls us out of our comfort zone and sends us to places we would never dream of going but there are people there who just need someone to show that they care.

Prisha was called to go to Punya Basti.  She knew that no one else wanted to go.  Even as she might have had misgivings about being able to stick it out, she agreed to go.  Her leader suggested that she commute to the village from a safer nearby village where she would have more comfortable accommodations but Prisha refused.  She wanted to live among the villagers.

I don’t want to stay in a different place.  I want to stay in the midst of them, in the village, so I can understand their feelings . . . and they can understand the love that we want to show them.

How many of us would have been tempted to stay in the safer village and be more comfortable? Prisha wanted to be able to relate to the people so living apart from them was out of the question. Jesus went to those who were downtrodden, outcast, rejected and lost.  He was criticized for being with them.

No one said that it would be easy.   Thing were pretty bad.  The people rarely had baths or washed their clothes.  Just last night my son asked me if he had to take a bath.  If he had his way, he would skip bathing altogether.

Once Prisha’s landlord offered her and her fellow Sister of Compassion a glass of water.  Prisha was shocked when she looked at it.  It smelled so bad that they couldn’t drink from it.  This was not surprising because Gospel for Asia Pastor Hoob Kumar who served the village, mentioned that the women cooked and ate food out of dirty vessels.

Realizing the magnitude of what lay in front of them, Prisha and her co-worker spent their first week in prayer and fasting.  Then they found ways to help the villagers.  They started by sweeping out the village’s filthy drains.  At times, Prisha was overwhelmed by the filthiness of Punya Basti but she and the seven Sisters of Compassion who joined her resolved to embrace the villagers and share in their lives.   There are times when we feel overwhelmed and this is the time when the enemy will attack us but God gives us the strength to carry on.  He who calls us will equip us and will be with us.

Slowly we understood that if we don’t get to know them closely, we won’t be able to have relationships with them – Prisha.

The Sisters of Compassion helped the local women with their chores, took care of their babies and ate the food offered to them.  Can you imagine eating tortoise and mongoose?  Most of us would refuse to eat that but Prisha and her fellow workers didn’t.   Eventually, they earned the people’s trust. The villagers began to listen to and follow their advice.  The drinking and fighting stopped. Women once barely clothed, embarrassing Prisha were now dressing modestly.  They began to cook in healthier and cleaner ways.  The children started going to school and the Sisters of Compassion taught them how to bathe, brush their teeth, comb their hair and dress neatly–things that we and out children do everyday.  Great changes were happening in Punya Basti!

The Sisters were embraced by the villagers who began to see them as family because of the love these women had shown them.  Others had scorned them but these Sisters had shown them that there is a God who loved them and wanted to transform their lives.  It was not long before the people decided to follow the God who had sent the Sisters to them.  The love of Jesus permeates the village that had once been steeped in squalor, violence and discord.  They had received physical and spiritual cleansing.  The once filthy ground was now fertile.

Today, the vast majority of Punya Basti’s residents, numbering more than 1,000, proclaim faith in Jesus. Even when half of the village is away traveling for work, more than 200 people gather to worship Jesus each week, ready to learn more about the God who cared enough to send His daughters to live among them.

This story really inspired me.  A village that seemed beyond hope and redemption was transformed by a young woman who obeyed God’s call.  Through her and her fellow Sisters of Compassion, God reached out to the villagers, showing them that there is a better way.   She reflected God’s love and they responded.   I pray that when God calls us to serve Him in areas that others don’t want to go to, we will be like Prisha and simply obey.

Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” – Isaiah 6:8.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of Sisters of Compassion, watch this http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1” target=”_blank”>video.

Now Entering Filth and Fertile Ground

Source:  Gospel for Asia

Asia’s Youth Need Your Prayers

Did you know that 40% of India’s population of 1 billion is under the age of 18?  I read in a New York Times Editorial that by 2020, India will be the youngest country in the world.  What would life be like then for them?  Worse than it is now?  According to India Today, surveys show that more and more Indian teenagers are indulging in casual sex, drugs, alcohol. Pray that God will rescue them from this destructive behaviour.

Asia’s youth also face disease, hunger, loneliness, trafficking, abuse, etc.  Gospel for Asia missionaries are reaching out to them and to their parents, telling them about Jesus’ love.  They need to know that there is hope for them.

Asia’s youth need your prayers.  Find out how you can pray for them at http://www.gfa.org/pray/youth/.

 

 

Women and Heart Disease

Believe it or not, the number one killer of women is heart disease, formerly thought to be a “man’s disease”.

What is heart disease? 

Your heart is a muscle that gets energy from blood carrying oxygen and nutrients. Having a constant supply of blood keeps your heart working properly. Most people think of heart disease as one condition. But in fact, heart disease is a group of conditions affecting the structure and functions of the heart and has many root causes. Coronary artery disease, for example, develops when a combination of fatty materials, calcium and scar tissue (called plaque) builds up in the arteries that supply blood to your heart (coronary arteries). The plaque buildup narrows the arteries and prevents the heart from getting enough blood (Heart & Stroke Foundation).

Why does heart disease affect women?  Women are more likely than men to have coronary MVD. Many researchers think that a drop in estrogen levels during menopause combined with other heart disease risk factors causes coronary MVD.  The disease affects women differently than it does men.  This can cause many women to be misdiagnosed.  Here are the differences:

  • For women, heart disease symptoms may be subtle – but when a heart attack
    strikes, women are more likely to die than men. Women are also at twice the risk
    of death following open heart surgery, compared to men
  • Heart damage is more likely to occur in women when the small blood vessels become obstructed from plaque.
  • Women are also more likely to maintain heart function after a heart attack, unlike men whose heart muscle becomes weaker; 38 percent of women die from heart attack, making heart attack more lethal for women than men.
  • Women are also more likely to have a second heart attack within six years of their first one, unlike men.
  • Women are also less likely than men to have obstructive coronary artery disease.

Women are also more likely than men to have a condition called broken heart syndrome. In this recently recognized heart problem, extreme emotional stress can lead to severe (but often short-term) heart muscle failure.  Broken heart syndrome is also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy (KAR-de-o-mi-OP-ah-thee) or takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Doctors may misdiagnose broken heart syndrome as a heart attack because it has similar symptoms and test results. However, there’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in broken heart syndrome, and most people have a full and quick recovery.  Researchers are just starting to explore what causes this disorder and how to diagnose and treat it. Often, patients who have broken heart syndrome have previously been healthy.

Women’s College Hospital in Canada where I go offered the following differences between the sexes and the effects of heart disease:

Women Tend to Develop Heart Disease at a Later Age

Women tend to develop heart disease later in life because they are often (though not always) protected by high levels of estrogen until after menopause. Men’s risk of developing heart disease increases in their 40s. A woman’s risk of heart disease becomes similar to a man’s risk about 10 years after menopause.

Women Experience More Silent Heart Attacks

Women experience more silent heart attacks than men. That is, a woman may not know she has had a heart attack. Women are also more likely to have a single artery narrow whereas men tend to have multiple arteries narrow.

Women Are More Likely to Be Suffering from Other Health Problems

Women are more likely to be suffering from other health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, when they have heart problems.

Women Do Not Always Get the Health Care They Need

Heart disease is under-detected in women. Once women do seek treatment, doctors do not always recognize their symptoms as the symptoms of heart disease. Women are also less likely to be referred to a heart specialist, to be hospitalized, to be prescribed medication or other treatment, or to be referred for exercise testing. As a result, women do not always get the health care they need.

I find it unsettling that women are not always getting the health care they need when they seek treatment for heart disease.  They should receive the same considered as men.  They should be referred to a heart specialist or hospitalized or given whatever care they should be entitled to.  It’s time for women to stop being under served and under treated.  In the mean time, educating women about their risk of the disease and how to take control of their health so that they can reduce that risk.  Whenever I go for my annual checkup, my doctor always orders an ECG for me.  Although I just read that ECG tests are not recommended by a government backed panel.  Read article.  Heart for Life has information on screening and heart tests on their website.  Check them out here.

I read that young women can have heart disease too.  Even though heart disease among women becomes more common after menopause, it affects younger women.  Every year in the U.S., heart disease kills about 16,000 young women and accounts for 40,000 hospitalizations in young women, according to the American Heart Association.  Young women may experience symptoms of a heart attack and fail to recognize them as such for the following reasons:

  • They thought they were too young to be having a heart attack.
  • They had atypical symptoms that lasted for more than a day.
  • They chalked up their symptoms to other conditions, not to a heart attack.

African American women are more at risk for heart disease than Caucasian women. And, if an African  American woman has a heart attack, she is 69 percent more likely to die of that  heart attack than a Caucasian woman.

Don’t be discouraged.  The Heart & Stroke Foundation assures us that heart disease is preventable and manageable.  They say that our defense is controlling the risk factors that could lead to coronary artery disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and being overweight.  Here are healthy heart steps we need to follow:

  • Be smoke-free.
  • Be physically active.
  • Know and control your blood pressure.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated and trans fat.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Manage your diabetes.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Visit your doctor regularly and follow your doctor’s advice.

Let us take action today.  Let us keep our hearts healthy.

Women tend to think that breast cancer is their biggest health threat. And while it’s important, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of women, even young women. But that message just hasn’t been fully recognized – cardiologist Nicea Goldberg, MD, director of the Women’s Heart Program at NYU Medical Center and author of the new book Complete Woman’s Guide to Women’s Health.

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Sources:  http://www.womensheart.org/content/heartdisease/heart_disease_facts.asp; http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/women-and-heart-disease-key-facts-you-need-to-know; http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/heart-disease.cfm; http://www.oprah.com/health/Facts-About-Heart-Disease-for-Women; http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/30/us-ecg-heart-idUSBRE86T1EE20120730; http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hdw/; http://www.emaxhealth.com/1020/heart-disease-affects-women-differently-men; http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca/health-resources/heart-health; http://www.modernmom.com/article/women-and-heart-disease-getting-the-right-health-care;  http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20080502/younger-women-miss-heart-attack-signs; http://www.heartandstroke.on.ca/site/c.pvI3IeNWJwE/b.4007287/k.4ACF/Heart_Disease__What_is_heart_disease.htm