Women and Mental Health

May 1-7 has been Mental Health awareness week.

One in three Americans struggles with mental illness but the rate is much higher in women.  Research shows that women are 40% more likely to develop depression than men.  It is not clear why mental illness is more common among women but doctors have come up with a number of possibilities.

Discrimination, Trauma and stressful life experiences

Trauma is common among women with half of them experiencing some form of trauma in their lifetime.  One in four women have faced an attempted or a completed sexual assault.  Reportedly, one in three are abused by a domestic partner.  Gender discrimination, violence and mistreatment undermine a woman’s mental health.  Stress is a predictor of mental illness.  Women juggle housework, kids even while working fulltime.  They report that they have to work harder to get the same credit as men and worry about the gender wage gap.  They have to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination in workplaces where these are commonplace.  These challenges can significantly affect a woman’s ability to cope and her self-esteem.

Hormonal Issues

Women produce lower quantities of serotonin than men due to differences in hormone levels and this deficiency can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

41% or women suffer from some form of postpartum depression.  Some of them are overwhelmed by the demands of parenting, especially in the early days.  I remember that there were times when I felt that I was drowning–in over my head.  Once I even cried out while I was holding my toddler.  Thankfully I had God and a very supportive partner.  It helped when he came home and I had an adult to talk to. Not all women are as blessed.  Research shows that women who don’t have supportive partners, experience traumatic births, live in poverty or a highly stressed will most likely develop postpartum depression.  

Gender bias is another problem women face.  Some research suggests that doctors tend to label women’s symptoms as emotional while taking the men’s symptoms more seriously.  So, a woman who reports that she is experiencing chronic pain to her doctor might be labeled as depressed.  This happens because we live in a world where gender discrimination exists and women are seen as more emotional and less rational.  

In many countries, the way health workers spoke to the women made it difficult for them to disclose their psychological and emotional distress.  And when they worked up the courage to disclose their problems, they were either over-treated or under treated by many of the health workers.

I read in an article in The Globe And Mail that women are getting the prescription that is available more often than the treatment they need.  They are getting medication to solve their problems even when science finds that treatments such as psychotherapy is equally or in some cases more effective without the side effects.  Bias in mental health care is a hindrance to women, preventing them from getting the proper help they need.  Not much effort goes into researching how drugs affect female patients.  While drug companies like to bombard women with their pills, most of their clinical trials have been dominated by men.  And the ironic thing is that the disorders most commonly diagnosed in women such as depression, anxiety and insomnia are the ones most likely to respond to therapy.  Most women are likely to prefer therapy over drugs.  

According to Dr. Marina Morrow, a Simon Fraser University psychologist who studies gender and mental health, “Women aren’t getting access to the range of care they need.”  She believes that an effective approach to this would be to include medication when necessary but in also offer therapy, peer support and pinpoint what social circumstances lead to the illness.

It has been argued that therapy is the safer, more effective and cheaper choice.  The authors of a 2015 study by Canadian and U.S. researchers concluded that, “There remains no sound justification to prescribe drugs without first trying therapy.  Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health, believes that “the way we fund therapies in Canada does not make sense right now.”  She wrote a letter to Quebec’s health minister to make the point that even if 20 per cent of seniors with insomnia received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with is used to treat insomnia, the cost-savings to the system could be in the hundreds of millions, based on the potential falls that would be avoided.  Therapy saves on costly and debilitating falls and hip fractures.  

We live in a country where medication is favored over psychotherapy and women are more likely than men to be prescribed antidepressants and sedatives as seniors and as a result they are at a higher risk of suffering from adverse effects.  Hopefully more women and those in the medical profession will speak out against the bias that is prevalent in the mental health care.  Doctors and those in the health care system need to give women more choices when it comes to treatment.  It’s their health so they should have the right to determine how they want to proceed once they have been diagnosed.

depressed woman

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

Margaret Trudeau

How many women can claim to be the wife of one Prime Minister and the mother of another?  On Monday, October 19, 2015, Margaret Trudeau watched as the results came in announcing her son Justin Trudeau as Canada’s next Prime Minister.  She watched as her son and his party went from being third in the long race to head the race and then make history as they won, garnering 184 seats, exceeding the majority of 170 seats.  According to Michael Den Tandt:

Justin Trudeau, the eldest son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, has resurrected his party, confounded his critics, defied the naysayers and trolls, overcome his own mistakes and resoundingly defeated two tough, smart, determined opponents who cannot have imagined anything like this outcome.

A minority was presaged by many polls. A majority, and a broad one at that, is beyond the Liberals’ wildest hopes.

In pulling this off, Trudeau, 43, has made history. Canada has its first political dynasty.

I can just imagine the pride that filled Margaret and no doubt, she thought of her former husband, Pierre and how proud he would have been of their son.   When she held the infant Justin in her arms, did she ever imagine that he would one day follow in his father’s footsteps?

As I watched her with her daughter-in-law, son and grandchildren in their hotel room watching the results, I wondered who this woman was.  What was her story?

Margaret was born in Vancouver to Doris Kathleen and James Sinclair, a former Liberal member of the Parliament of Canada and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.  She attended Simon Fraser University where she studied English Literature.

At the age of 18, when vacationing in Tahiti, she met Pierre Trudeau, then Minister of Justice.  It seemed like she was destined to be in the world of politics.  Interestingly enough, Margaret didn’t recognize Pierre and thought little of their encounter.  However, he was captivated by this carefree “flower child”.  She was thirty years his junior but that didn’t stop him from pursuing her.

When he became Prime Minister in 1968, Pierre was still a bachelor.  After keeping their relationship private, he stunned the country by marrying 22 year old Margaret in 1971 at a private ceremony in West Vancouver.  Not surprisingly, the age difference raised some eyebrows among Canadians but this behaviour was typical of the Prime Minister who “prided himself on his progressive  views and youthful vigour”.

Pierre Trudeau was a Catholic so Margaret converted to his religion.  When asked about her role in her marriage to the Prime Minister, she said, “I want to be more than a rose in my husband’s lapel.”

Life as the wife of a Prime Minister was not easy.  It took some adjusting for Margaret.  She wrote in her memoirs, “a glass panel was gently lowered into place around me, like a patient in a mental hospital who is no longer considered able to make decisions and who cannot be exposed to a harsh light.”  They had three children, Justin being the eldest.  They appeared to have a very close and loving relationship but the marriage soon began to fall apart.  Margaret resented her husband’s frequent work-related absences.  She was forced to raise their sons on her own.  What a change this must have been for the woman who was once described as “carefree”.

Her publicity didn’t come solely from her high-profile position, unfortunately.  She made headlines when she smuggled drugs in her husband’s luggage, made scantily clad appearances at Studio 54 and ripped apart a tapestry in the Prime Minister’s official residence in Ottawa because it celebrated “reason over passion”.

The marriage disintegrated.  This led to an affair with U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.  She associated with Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger, members of the Rolling Stones.  She suffered from stress and bouts of bipolar depression.   In 1977, she separated from her husband.  She became a jet-setter and gave many “tell-all” interviews to Canadian and American magazines.    She even appeared in two motion pictures. Pierre Trudeau won custody of the children and did not pay spousal support.  Margaret had a difficult time earning a learning after her marriage.  She wrote Beyond Reason, a book about her marriage.  On the eve of 1979 Pierre’s party lost the majority of seats in the House of Commons.   At the same time, Margaret was at Studio 54 in New York.  A photo of her was featured on many front pages across Canada.

The Trudeaus divorced in 1984.  Not long after, Margaret married Fried Kemper, Ottawa real-estate developer.  They had two children.  Unlike her first marriage, Margaret was able to disappear from the public eye.  In 1998, Margaret experienced a devastating tragedy.  Michel, her youngest son with Pierre, was killed in an avalanche.  This led to another major depressive episode which ended her second marriage.

In 2000, when Pierre died Margaret was at his bedside with their sons, Justin and Alexandre.

Just because our marriage ended didn’t mean the love stopped – Margaret speaking of Trudeau.

What is Margaret up these days?  She is the honorary president of WaterAid Canada, an organization in Ottawa, dedicated to helping the poorest communities in developing countries to have access to safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation.  She has written the book, The Time of Your Life:  Choosing A Vibrant Joyful Future in which she offers insights into how women can live healthy, happy lives and provides stories about her own life..

Notes to Women would like to commend Margaret for the work she has been doing since she announced in 2006 that she had been suffering from bipolar disorder.  Through speaking engagements across North America, she has advocated for reducing the social stigma of mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder.  She is an honorary patron of the Canadian Mental Health Association.  She wrote about her personal experience with bipolar disorder in Changing My Mind.

She now resides in Montreal so she can be closer to her sons Justin and Alexandre.  She was there in person to celebrate Justin’s historic win with him.  Margaret Trudeau is not just the wife of Pierre Trudeau or the mother of Justin Trudeau. She is the voice of those who suffer from mental illness.  She is an inspiration for women who have battled and are battling mood swings.  She has shown that with the right doctors and right treatment, women who suffer from mental illness can rebuild their lives.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about bipolar disorder, visit this link.

TORONTO, ON- MARCH 25 - Margaret Trudeau has written a new book,The Time of Your Life....about enjoying a joyful old age .She is seen here in Harper Collins office downtown Toronto at in Toronto, March 25, 2015. Colin McConnell/Toronto Star

TORONTO, ON- MARCH 25 – Margaret Trudeau has written a new book,The Time of Your Life….about enjoying a joyful old age .She is seen here in Harper Collins office downtown Toronto at in Toronto, March 25, 2015. Colin McConnell/Toronto Star

Sources:  Wikipedia; National Post

Let’s Talk

Mental illness is something that not many people feel comfortable talking about–at least from where I came from.  I didn’t know that people suffered from depression or bi-polar disorder.  In Guyana we used to see people walking around, dishevelled, shaking their fists and shouting and we stayed clear of them.  They were simply called mad people.  Now I realize that these people could have been suffering from mental illness and were not getting the care they needed. 

I came from a society where people kept things to themselves.  No one liked to talk about private matters.  So I was stunned when I came to North America and watched talk shows where people talked freely about very personal things.  They spoke about their relationships, sometimes giving very intimate details.  They spoke openly mental illness, addictions, abuse, etc.  It was therapeutic for them.  They could finally face up to what they had and deal with it.  I never knew that a few members of my family suffered from mental illness until years later.  I didn’t see any signs.  People were good at hiding things.

Mental illness is not to be feared or dismissed or swept under the rug.  It is something that we need to talk and educate ourselves about.  We need to understand what it’s all about so that we can offer better support to our loved ones and friends who have had to live with the stigma all their lives.  Bi-polar disorder is something I have become very familiar with.  People close to me have it and I have seen what happens when they come off of their medication.  It is very upsetting and unsettling.  They are not the same people.  They do things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do.  They dress differently.  They are either manic or depressed.  They spend money on things they can’t afford.  They become paranoid.  They believe that someone is out to hurt them.  They seem to have a beef with certain people.  They might get themselves in trouble with the law.  They end up in hospital where they stay for a while.  Sometimes they are discharged before they should be.  The more often they come off of their medication, the longer it takes for them to get back on track. 

It’s a vicious cycle.  Their families get tired of it.  They wonder why their loved ones don’t stay on their medication so that they don’t wind up in the psychiatric ward.  That part of the hospital is depressing.  I can’t imagine that it’s conducive for the patients.

February 8, 2012 is Bell Let’s Talk Day. Canadians are invited to join Bell in the conversation about mental health by talking, calling, texting or retweeting.  For every text message and long distance call made by Bell and Bell Aliant customers on this day, Bell will donate 5 cents to mental health programs.  Bell also launched this year’s Let’s Talk Community Fund.  This community fund is part of the Bell Mental Health Initiative, a $50 million multi-year national program in support of mental health.  Through the Community Fund, Bell will provide grants of $5,000 to $50,000 to organizations, hospitals and agencies focused on improving access to mental health care and making a positive impact in their communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

The Let’s Talk campaign is a testimony to Bell’s commitment to fight the stigma of around mental illness.  The spokesperson is Clara Hughes, the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in Winter and Summer Olympics.

Every time I saw Clara Hughes, she had a huge smile on her face.  I never imagined that behind that smile was a dark and lonely place for the six-time Olympic medallist.  For two years she battled depression.  She is proud to be the spokesperson for Let’s Talk.  She speaks openly about her own struggles with depression which began after she won two bronze medals in cycling at the 1996 Olympics.  Read about her story.  The struggle is still there for her as it is for others with mental illness.  The good thing is that it’s out in the open.   It is not a battle that they are facing alone.  Hughes’ goal  is “open up the dialogue” for Canadians struggling with mental illness.  On February 8 she will be joined by singer-songwriter Stefie Shock and actor-comedian Michel Mpambara who share their own stories of struggle and recovery. 

Hughes is making a huge difference in this campaign.  Last year Canadians responded to her call with a total of over 66 million messages and long distance calls.  This year marks the second annual Let’s Talk Day.  The goal is to beat last year’s total. 

On Wednesday, February 8, take action–talk, call, text messages.  Watch the new documentary Darkness and Hope:  Depression, Sports and Me hosted by TSN personality and ‘Off The Record’ host Michael Landsberg airing on CTV at 7 p.m. ET and CTV Mobile.  Help to support this campaign that will make mental illness visible and remove its stigma. 

If you are interested in being a part of Let’s Talk Day or need more information, visit Bell’s website

A lot of people don’t realize that depression is an illness. I don’t wish it on anyone, but if they would know how it feels, I swear they would think twice before they just shrug it.
Jonathan Davis
 
For too long we have swept the problems of mental illness under the carpet… and hoped that they would go away.
Richard J. Codey
 
I have suffered from depression for most of my life. It is an illness.
Adam Ant
 

Sources:  http://www.clara-hughes.com/; http://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/story/2011/02/06/sp-hughes-q-a.html; http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/story/2011/02/06/sp-hughes-q-a.html; Read more: http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Health/20100921/bell-mental-health-00921/#ixzz1lNRfQCMF