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.

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Fanny Kemble

If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good – Thomas J. Watson

I never heard of Fanny Kemble until I recently read a devotion, The Unlikely in Our Daily Bread which mentions her work as an Abolitionist.  She was a British actress in the 19th century who married Pierce Butler, an American fan.  Fanny didn’t know that he was soon to inherit two plantations.  Had she known, most probably she would not have married him.  Little did she know that she would soon be fighting her own civil war.

Fanny Kemble was born in England in 1809 into a prominent family of actors.  Although she was very accomplished in her acting, it was not her true love.  Writing was her passion and throughout her she would write plays, journals, poetry, letters and memoirs.  Her most famous authorship would be that of Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation which many consider to be the closest, most detailed account of the harsh conditions of plantation slavery.

Fanny was a strong, spirited woman with no formal training in acting but she managed to captivate audiences.  She had what were considered to be masculine traits: she was independent, physically strong and highly intelligent.  She was talented, spoke French fluently and was accomplished in music.  She embraced life and enjoyed exercise, specifically riding.  To her the best way to was to break “my neck off the back of my horse at a full gallop on a fine day”.  This reminds me of my former boss whose wish was to die being mauled to death by a polar bear.  Whatever happened to wanting to die peacefully in one’s sleep?

Fanny met her future husband Pierce when she and her father went on a two-year theatre tour in America.  It wasn’t her desire to experience life in America but she did it to please her father.  She was well received by the Americans and captured the ardent attention of Pierce Butler, a man born into wealthy and prominent family from Philadelphia.  His grandfather was Revolutionary War veteran Major Pierce Butler.  Major Butler was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and the author of the Constitution’s fugitive slave clause.  He owned two plantations in Georgia, one was on St. Simon’s Island where sea-island cotton was grown and the other was on Butler Island where rice was grown.  One day, his grandson would inherit this mass fortune, making history as one of the largest slaveholders in the nation.

Pierce, infatuated with Fanny, followed her while she toured and she fell in love with this charming and attentive man.  She married him as a way of escaping life in the theatre which was beset with her family’s unstable financial future.  She was marrying into wealth but didn’t find out what the source of that wealth was until after they got married.

It was a marriage that was doomed from the beginning.  She believed that he would always be devoted to her and he believed that he could control her.  And their differences on slavery did not help matters.  He thought he could get her to see the benefits of the institution while she thought she could get him to free his slaves.  When she tried to publish an antislavery treatise she had written, Pierce forbade her to do so.  After he and his brother John inherited the Georgia plantations, Fanny wanted to see the plantation and begged but Pierce to take her with him but he refused.  Then in December of 1838 he took her and their two daughters and their Irish nurse to Butler Island.  Nothing could have prepared Fanny for  what she witnessed at this place.  Inspite of the beautiful surroundings, she could not escape the ugly presence of slavery.  She said, “I should like the wild savage loneliness of the far away existence extremely if it were not for the one small item of the slavery.”

Fanny and Pierce clashed over their views of slavery and their marriage began to deteriorate.  In 1845 Fanny left Pierce and children and returned to England where she resumed her stage career.  Pierce sued for divorce, claiming that she had “willfully, maliciously, and without due cause, deserted him on September 11, 1845”.  Three years later, on April 7, 1848, he filed for divorce.  Fanny returned to America to defend herself against his charges and after a long and painful court battle, the divorce was granted a year later with Pierce having full custody of the girls.  Fanny was allowed to spend two months very summer with them and receive $1500 yearly in alimony.

While Fanny was able to support herself in the U.S. and Europe with her Shakespearean readings, Pierce fell into financial ruin, gambling away his fortune.  He ended up in huge debt which led to the selling of the mansion in Philadelphia and the liquidation of other properties.  Unfortunately, this was not enough so the trustees turned their focus on the property in Georgia where the slaves were.  This led to the largest single sale of human beings in United States history and the event known as “the weeping time” as slaves were separated from their families.

After the war Pierce and his daughter Frances returned to Butler Island where he arranged for former slaves to work for him as sharecroppers.  He later contracted malaria and died.  Fanny moved to Philadelphia where she continued to perform dramatic readings.  She travelled and published her journals.  On January 15, 1893, Fanny died peacefully in London.

Notes to Women want to acknowledge this woman who spoke out against an institution and practice which violated the rights of people based on their race.  Moved with compassion and a sense of decency, Fanny set out to reform the plantations.  She set up a hostel and nursery for those in need and paid the slaves who personally tended to her.  She improved the hygiene of the slave children by rewarding cleanliness with small prizes.   Her critics saw her efforts at reform as foolish and sided with her husband but we applaud Fanny for the stance she took against slavery and her resolve to do what she could to help the slaves and for raising awareness through her firsthand observations.  If you are interested in reading about her experiences, you can read them in her diary here.

In Fanny’s eyes, acquiring wealth from the forced labor and enslavement of others is unconscionable. She was convinced that slavery was wrong and inhumane and refused to be silenced on the matter.  She stuck to her convictions and today, her journal continues to be a primary source of education on the reality of slavery.

[On disagreeing with her husband about his slave-holding:] I cannot give my conscience into the keeping of another human being or submit the actions dictated by my conscience to their will.

I have sometimes been haunted with the idea that it was an imperative duty, knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, to do all that lies in my power to show the dangers and the evils of this frightful institution.

In the north we could not hope to keep the worst and poorest servant for a single day in the wretched discomfort in which our negro servants are forced habitually to live.

I said I thought female labour of the sort exacted from these slaves, and corporal chastisement such as they endure, must be abhorrent to any manly or humane man.

The Southern newspapers, with their advertisements of negro sales and personal descriptions of fugitive slaves, supply details of misery that it would be difficult for imagination to exceed. Scorn, derision, insult, menace – the handcuff, the last – the tearing away of children from parents, of husbands from wives – the weary trudging in droves along the common highways, the labor of body, the despair of mind, the sickness of heart – these are the realities which belong to the system, and form the rule, rather that the exception, in the slave’s experience.

A good many causes tend to make good masters and mistresses quite as rare as good servants…. The large and rapid fortunes by which vulgar and ignorant people become possessed of splendid houses, splendidly furnished, do not, of course, give them the feelings and manners of gentle folks, or in any way really raise them above the servants they employ, who are quite aware of this fact, and that the possession of wealth is literally the only superiority their employers have over them.

Though the Negroes are fed, clothed, and housed, and though the Irish peasant is starved, naked, and roofless, the bare name of freemen-the lordship over his own person, the power to choose and will-are blessings beyond food, raiment, or shelter; possessing which, the want of every comfort of life is yet more tolerable than their fullest enjoyment without them.

When marriage is what it ought to be, it is indeed the very happiest condition of existence.

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Sources:  PBS, Pabook Libraries, New Georgia Encyclopedia; Brainy Quotes; AZ Quotes; Stand Up Quotes

Lena Horne

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women are going to celebrate a few notable women.  We begin with singer, actress, Lena Horne.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in Bedford-sTuyvesant, Brooklyn.  Her father, Edwin Fletcher Horne left the family when she was three years old.  Her mother was the daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron.  She was an actress with a black theatre troupe and travelled extensively.  Lena was raised by her grandparents.  When she was five, she was sent to Georgia to live.  For seeral years she travelled with her mother.  For two years, she lived with her uncle who would later serve as an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

At the age of sixteen, Lena joined the chorus of the Cotton Club and became a nightclub performer before she moved to Hollywood.  In Hollywood she had small parts in movies, notably Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather.  She was never cast in a leading role because of her race and the films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theatres would not show films with black performers.  Interestingly enough, Lena was the first African American elected to serve on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors.

In 1951, Lena wanted to be considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in the MGM’s version of Show Boat but lost the part to her friend, Ava Gardner due to the Production Code’s ban on interracial relationships in films. Lena stated in the documentary, That’s Entertainment! III that MGM executives wanted Ava Gardner to practice her singing using Lena’s recordings. Both actresses were offended by this.

Not surprisingly, Lena was disenchanted with Hollywood and she began to focus more on her nightclub career.  She made two major appearances in MGM films in the 1950s, Duchess of Idaho and Meet Me in Las Vegas.  It was during this time that she was blacklisted for her political views.

After she left Hollywood, Lena made waves as one of the premier nightclub performers of the post-war era.  She headlined clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.  In 1958, she was the first African American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical”.  She appeared in variety shows on TV such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Judy Garland Show and in 1969., she starred in her own television special, Monsanto Night Presents Lena Horne.

In 1970, she co-starred with Harry Belafonte in ABC’s show, Harry & Lena and in 1973 with Tony Bennett in Tony and Lena.  She toured the U.S. and U.K. with Bennett.  In 1981, she received a special Tony Award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne:  The Lady and Her Music.  In the 1990s she was active in the recording studio.

Lena was also a Civil Rights activist.  She was involved in the movement for years.  In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and Paul Robeson, another blacklisted performer.  During World War II, Lena refused to perfom for segregated audiences or for groups where German POWS were sitting in front of African American servicemen.  The U.S. Army refused to have integrated audiences so Lena ended up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs.  When she saw that the black soldiers were forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where they were seated and performed with the German POWs behind her.  Way to go Lena!

She was a participant at an NAACP rally with Medgar Evers the weekend before he was assassinated and she met John F. Kennedy at the White House two days before he was assassinated.  She participated at the March on Washington where she spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC adn the National Council of Negro Women.  She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, another champion of civil rights, to pass anti-lynching laws.  She received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1983.

On a more personal note, Lena was married to Louis Jordan Jones.  They had a daughter and a son.  Sadly, their son died of a kidney disease.  In 1940, Lena and her husband separated.  They divorced in 1944.  In 1947, she remarried.  Her second husband was Lennie Hayton, Music Director and one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM.  In the early 1960s they separated but never divorced.  Lennie died in 1971.  In her biography, Lena, she recalled the pressures they faced as an interracial couple.  She admitted that she married him to advance her career and cross the “color line” in show business but had learned to love him very much.

Fame runs in the family.  Lena’s daughter, Gail, a best-selling author, was married to director, Sidney Lumet.  Their daughter, Jenny Lumet, a screenwriter, is known for her award winning screenplay, Rachel Getting Married.

On May 9, 2010, Lena Horne died in New York city of heart failure.  Among those gathered to pay their respects at her funeral were Leontyne Price, Dionne Warwick, Liza Minnelli, Jessye Norman, Chita Rivera, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams and Lauren Bacall.  At the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony held on February 27, 2011, actress Halle Berry presented a tribute to Lena.

Notes to Women salute this phenomenal woman who was not afraid to speak out against racism and was the first African-American actress to have a major studio contract with the stipulation that she would not have to play any demeaning, stereotypical roles.  In doing this, she paved the way for other African American actresses.

In my early days I was a sepia Hedy Lamarr. Now I’m black and a woman, singing my own way.

I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept. I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.

Always be smarter than the people who hire you

It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.

My identity is very clear to me now, I am a black woman, I’m not alone, I’m free. I say I’m free because I no longer have to be a credit, I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.

You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.

I never considered myself a movie star. Mostly, I just sang songs in other people’s movies.

 

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Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lena_Horne; http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_lena_horne.htm; http://www.qotd.org/quotes/Lena.Horne; http://www.blackclassicmovies.com/Artist_Profile/lena_horne.html; http://www.biography.com/#!/people/lena-horne-9344086; http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0395043/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm