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

Single Mothers

Some years ago, I was part of a ministry which reached out to women and children living in shelters. One of my favorite things was collecting donated items and taking them to the shelter.  The staff was just as excited as my assistant and I were.  It was like Christmas every time we went there because mothers and their children were going to get things they really needed.  I remember buying photo albums and cameras for the expectant mothers so that they could capture those precious moments. One staff member mentioned that the women did scrapbooking as a form of therapy so we bought scrapbooks.

 

One of the women I met at the shelter was a young, single mother.  We took items for her and her unborn child.  After she left the shelter we kept in touch at her request.  We dropped off donated items for her and met her family.  When she was in the hospital, she called to give me the good news–she had a son.  Sadly, we lost touch.  I hope that she and her son are doing well.  I think the last I heard, she was working at a drugstore.  She believed in God and found comfort in His Word.

 

I remember that a church member had a problem with our ministry helping this unwed mother.  I believe that sometimes Christians are so particular about what is morally right and wrong that they neglect what is needed–compassion.  When Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman, not once did He make her feel ashamed or embarrassed.  He showed her love and compassion.  He even commended her for being honest about her current living arrangement.  She was living with a man who was not her husband after having gone through more than one failed marriage.  Instead of condemning her or refusing to have anything to do with her or withholding His love, Jesus offered her living water. He offered her salvation.  He showed her grace.  The way He treated her compelled the woman to go and tell others about Him.

 

It’s tough enough for some women to raise children on their own without having to deal with criticism and feeling that they had committed the unpardonable sin.  I met a young woman who worked at the same homeless shelter.  She left her church because of the people.  They treated her shamefully because she had had a child out of wedlock.  The church is not expected to ignore these things or excuse them but at the same time, they are not to be judgmental.  They are to be mindful that people will fall into sin and that they need compassion.  Only God is allowed to judge.  And the Bible assures us that when we confess our sins, God is just and faithful to forgive us.  Jesus didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery but He told her to stop sinning.

 

Single mothers should not be made to feel bad because they had a child outside of marriage.  Mind you, some choose to raise their children on their own without the help of the fathers.  It’s sad to know that many women stay away from church because they are ashamed and they are afraid of the kind of reception they would get once it was discovered that they are unwed mothers.  People might be friendly until they notice that there is no wedding ring.  In churches where people don’t wear rings such as the Seventh-day Adventist church, it would be harder to tell until they notice that she and her child are never accompanied by a male.  Someone might come right out and ask her about her husband.  She could evade the question or be like the Samaritan woman and admit that she is not married.  It won’t be long before she feels uncomfortable being there and will stop attending.

 

I was reading this post written by a Christian woman who was an unwed teenage mom and she made the point that there was nothing at her church for single mothers. Ashamed, she stopped going to church and for seven years she lived in shame.  She calls for churches to step up and reach out to the single mothers in their midst.  “Whether they are unwed or divorced, many single moms need parenting advice, financial instruction, emotional support via networking, and Spiritual growth opportunities.  Let us find these women in our communities, both the churched and the unchurched.  Let us minister to them at their point of need.  Let’s begin the single moms groups.  Praise God for the cutting-edge churches across the country who have already embraced the concept!  Has yours?”

 

Does your church have a ministry for single mothers?  If you were to suggest this to your pastor do you think that your pastor would be open to it?  We are all sinners and we all fall short of the glory of God. Most single mothers don’t plan to have children out of wedlock.  Many dream of falling in love, getting married and then having children.  I know of women who regret having children before they got married.  Some of them envy other women who got married first.   One woman is currently living with her partner and their child and is hoping that one day they would get married.  Until that happens, she doesn’t feel comfortable going to church.  And she has no plans of returning to the church she had been a member of until they discovered that she was pregnant.  She left the church after she learned that there were members who were out for her blood.  The whole experience had been a traumatic one for her and it took a while for her to reach the point where she could put it behind her and forgive the people who condemned her.

 

As a church, we ought to reach out to unwed mothers inside and outside of the church.  If your church doesn’t have a ministry to help these women, pitch the idea.  Start a ministry.  It can be a part of the Singles’ or Women’s Ministries or Community Service.  Do something.  I was moved to start the ministry because I wanted to follow Jesus’ example and to be a good neighbor like the Samaritan man.  Although I am no longer at the church, the ministry is still going strong.  If you don’t feel comfortable approaching your pastor about starting the ministry, then you can find a single mother who needs help and help her. You can encourage other church members who might be interested to help the other single mothers in the church.  Be a light right where you are.  By helping these mothers, you are fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbor.

 

Single Mother

The Apology

The other night when my husband and I were watching TVO, we saw a clip of director Tiffany Tsiung’s latest film, The Apology.  The film is about the more than  200,000 women and girls across Asia who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War.  “Now in their 80s and 90s, these former comfort women are demanding an official apology from a reluctant Japanese government. This documentary follows the heart wrenching and transformative journeys of Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines as they confront their painful past.”

What are “comfort women”?  “Comfort women were women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied territories before and during World War II.  The name “comfort women” is a translation of the Japanese ianfu, an euphemism for “prostitutes”.”

The Japanese had what they thought were legitimate reasons for establishing the comfort stations.  It was to prevent rape crimes committed by Japanese army personnel which would curb the rise of hostility among people in occupied areas.  The Japanese Army established the comfort stations to prevent venereal diseases and rape by Japanese soldiers, to provide comfort to soldiers and head off espionage.

The first comfort station was established in the Japanese concession in Shanghai in 1932.  Earlier comfort women were Japanese prostitutes who volunteered for such service.  However, as Japan continued military expansion, the military found itself short of Japanese volunteers, and turned to the local population to coerce women into serving in these stations, or abducted them.  Many women responded to calls for work as factory workers or nurses, and did not know that they were being pressed into sexual slavery.

How anyone could think that providing women for comfort to soldiers was a good idea, is beyond me.  These women suffered such atrocities, it is heart wrenching.  “Approximately three quarters of comfort women died, and most survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma or sexually transmitted diseases.  Beatings and physical torture were said to be common. The women who not were prostitutes prior to joining the “comfort women corps”, especially those taken in by force, were normally “broken in” by being raped.

One Korean women, Kim Hak-sun stated in a 1991 interview about how she was drafted into the “comfort women corps” in 1941: “When I was 17 years old, the Japanese soldiers came along in a truck, beat us [her and a friend], and then dragged us into the back. I was told if I were drafted, I could earn lots of money in a textile factory…The first day I was raped and the rapes never stopped…I was born a woman but never lived as a woman…I feel sick when I come close to a man. Not just Japanese men, but all men-even my own husband who saved me from the brothel. I shiver whenever I see a Japanese flag…Why should I feel ashamed? I don’t have to feel ashamed.” Kim stated that she was raped 30-40 times a day, everyday of the year during her time as a “comfort woman”. 

Comfort women were seen as female ammunition and public toilets, to be used and abused.  They were forced to donate blood for the treatment of wounded soldiers.  The Korean women made up at least 80% of the “comfort women” but were assigned to the lower ranks while Japanese and European women were reserved for the officers.  In Korea, premarital sex is widely disapproved of so the Korean teenagers who were taken into the “comfort women corps” were virgins.  It was believed that this was the best way to limit the spread of venereal diseases to the soldiers and sailors because they didn’t want them to be incapacitated.

After what these women have endured, it is high time that the Japanese government apologizes to them.  They are the voices of the other women who died, their cries against the injustice they suffered silenced forever.  It is time for the Japanese government to step up and do what is right.

Here’s the trailer.  If you live in Canada, you can watch the film on TVO tonight at 9pm.

Source:  Wikipedia

Clean and Living Water

Therefore with joy you will draw water From the wells of salvation – Isaiah 12:3

World Water Day

It’s that time of the year again when we raise awareness about clean water, something that is not accessible in some parts of the world.   It is hard to imagine living in a community where there is no clean water for drinking, cooking or washing yet this is the reality for many living in South Asia.  People are getting sick from drinking dirty water.

Women and children are forced to walk hours a day to distant water sources, such as filthy ponds or lakes, and even then the water may be contaminated. Sometimes they know this will bring death and sickness to their families, but they have no other choice – Gospel for Asia

I read two very touching stories.  The first was about Salil who watched his family get sick from the contaminated water from the pond which was their only resource.  He was forced to sell sand at the risk of getting caught and punished because he needed the money to take care of his family.  His meagre income was spent on medicine for them.  However, no matter how hard he worked, it didn’t change the fact that the water was still contaminated and his family was still sick.  The other story is about a husband and wife who were banned from drinking water from the community well because she was accused of performing witchcraft which took the life of another villager.

When I read these stories, I am reminded of how much I have to be thankful for.  I have clean water at my fingertips.  I can drink boiled, filtered or bottled water.  I can tap water for cooking and a washing machine for my clothes.  I don’t have to travel for miles to filthy ponds and lakes to draw water that may be contaminated.  I don’t have to worry about getting sick from the water I drink.  For many of us, clean water is a convenience, an amenity while for so many, it is a treasure.

Both of these stories had a happy ending.  While Salil was struggling to care for his family, God was working to change things for the village through a nearby pastor named Dayakara who was making regular visits to his village.  As he befriend the villagers, Dayakara learned of their water crisis.  Not wasting any time, he and other Gospel for Asia supported workers decided that they were going to help the villagers.  They drilled a well in the centre of the village where everyone would have access.

a-jesus-well-transforms-salils-family-3

Imagine Salil’s surprise when he went home for one of his visits and found his wife and children well.  What happened?   He learned about the well and was overjoyed, but didn’t know who was responsible for it.  One day Salil met Pastor Dayakara and as they talked, Salil realized that this was the man and fellow laborers who were responsible for the bringing the well to his village.  Marvelling at their kindness and compassion , Salil was curious about this God who could pour such love in people’s hearts.

For Madhura and Jaival it was a nightmare not being able to access water from the village hand pumps.  They were banned from doing so by their neighbors and friends because they believed that Madhura’s witchcraft had killed one of the villagers.  For five years the couple had two terrible choices–drink the water and die or don’t drink the water and die.  Then, one day, Pastor Jaanai met them and they were able to pour their hearts out to him.  Burdened to get clean water for the suffering of the villagers , Pastor Jaanai and his congregation fasted and prayed.  Pastor Jaanai told Madhur and Jaival his hopes to get a Jesus Well in their village.  In the village there were 750 people and there were only three hand pumps which were old and damaged.  Only one pump supplied water but it was not enough for so many people.

Madhura and Jaival

Madhura and Jaival began praying in their hearts to this God of love whom the Pastor had shared with them would help them.  Perhaps He would give them what their neighbors had refused to give them.  After many months of earnest prayer, the day that they had all dreamed of, came.  A Jesus Well of their own was drilled and was overflowing with the cleanest water they had ever seen.  God had answered their prayers.  The couple and their community could use the well.  They could wash their clothes, cook their dinners and refresh themselves with the clean water.

Through the Jesus Wells, God had brought joy and healing to two communities.  He had brought a community together.  Although their neighbors had been unkind to Madhura and Jaival, God didn’t exclude them from receiving His blessings.  God’s grace is for everyone.  When Madhura and Jaival saw that the Lord had answered their prayers and had accepted them while others had rejected them, they wanted to receive Him into their hearts and lives.  They wanted the Living Water to dwell with and within them.

Jesus Wells Open the Door for God’s Love – Gospel for Asia

Through the new well in Salil’s village, Salil and his fellow villagers came to understand the love of Jesus Christ.  One of the villagers, Baldev has a remarkable testimony.  Like Salil, he had family to support but had gotten sick from the contaminated water from the pond.  He couldn’t work and as a result, his family suffered.  However, when he began to use the water from the Jesus Well, his sickness went away.  He experienced the same miraculous healing as Salil’s family.  So, it was no surprise that when Salil shared the good news about Jesus with Baldev that he and his family accepted the Lord in their lives.  Now, they have regular prayer meetings in their home, led by Salil.

It’s amazing how God could use something so basic as water to transform the lives of so many.  That’s the God we serve!  If it’s your desire to see many more people come to the saving knowledge of the true Living Water, help Gospel for Asia’s Clean Water Ministry.

When I read these two stories, I thought about my favorite story in the Bible–Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  She went to the well to draw water as usual but on that particular day, she discovered the Living Water who promised her and us, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water that I shall give him will become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life” (John 4:14).  Salil, Madhura, Jaival and their communities drank that water and now their lives are just overflowing with joy.  Praise God!

Thank You, Heavenly Father for bringing hope, joy, healing and salvation to many through Gospel for Asia’s Clean Water Ministry and forever quenching their thirst with the Living Water Who is Christ, Your beloved Son.

Source:  Gospel for Asia

The Fires of Faith

Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21, 22).

 

They meet in secret at night.  They don’t meet in the same place too often.  They don’t tell their families about these meetings.  They draw the curtains to keep the world out. They speak in whispers. Every day they meet, it is a gamble.  At any moment, they could be discovered.  The risk is great.  They live in fear of being arrested, tortured or killed.  Is it worth it?  To the members of the underground churches, it is.  They risk everything for their belief.

 

Life for Christians is terrible in places like North Korea, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  It is ironic that it was to Egypt that Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to escape Herod’s murderous rampage yet today, Christians are under great pressure.  Secret believers like In Syria, Christians had to flee their homes.

 

Those of us who are living in the West, we can worship openly in church buildings.  We don’t have to speak in whispers.  We can sing and pray out loud. We enjoy religious liberty.  Some of us may face opposition from our families.  Jesus warned us of this.  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a ‘man’s enemies will be those of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36).

 

Just recently, I read a story of a father who forbad his daughter from going to church.  Her family was from an Orthodox background so they had a problem with her wanting to attend a Protestant church.  She resorted to sneaking off and going to church.  There are other stories of men and women persecuted, beaten, ostracized and even murdered by family members because of their faith.

 

It’s hard to believe that Christians persecute other Christians.  However, this is prevalent in Ethiopia.  Christians from the Orthodox churches who leave to find more vibrant churches are pressured to return.  In the days prior to the Reformation, many believers were forced to hide.  Such groups were the Waldensians who were forced underground because they were declared heretics by the Roman Catholic Church.  They rejected the teachings of the church and what they believed to be the idolatry of the church and considered the Papacy as the Antichrist of Rome.

 

Many were driven from their homes and into the mountains when in January 1655, the Duke of Savoy commanded them to attend Mass or sell their lands and go to the upper valleys of their homeland.  It was in the middle of winter.  The Duke didn’t expect them to choose to leave their homes and lands in the lower valleys.  Yet, they did and it was written that the old men, women and the sick “waded through the icy waters, climbed the frozen peaks and at length reached the homes for their impoverished brethren of the Upper Valleys where they were warmly received”  Sadly, the horrors of persecution were about to be unleashed.

 

 

When the Duke realized that his efforts to get the people to conform to Catholicism, he tried another approach.  Under the guise of false reports of uprisings, he sent the troops to the people. It was a ruse to gain them easy access.  Then, on April 24, 1655 at 4am when the people would have been sleeping, the troops were given the command to go and massacre them.  They didn’t just slaughter the people but they looted, raped, tortured and murdered.  Peter Liegé reported the following:

 

 

Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts. The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to staunch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and ploughed into the soil as men plough manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged [raped], then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die (Wikipedia).

 

annacharbonieretortured

Print illustrating the 1655 massacre in La Torre, from Samuel Moreland’s “History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont” published in London in 1658.

 

 

The Piedmont massacre happened during Easter.  In fact, it became known as the Piedmont Easter and it was estimated that about 1,700 Waldensians were slaughtered.  Its brutality aroused the indignation of the European nations and sanctuary was offered to the remaining Waldensians.

 

 

Today, many Christians face the same kind of brutality for their faith.  Women have been attacked, beaten or murdered because they converted to Christianity.  Girls have been brutally raped for their faith or their parents’ faith. According to a report in the New York Times:  “Christians in areas of Egypt that are largely dominated by Muslim militants continue to suffer from violence and humiliation. These believers are under constant threat of their houses and other properties being burned down, or possibly being mugged while walking along the streets. Even church buildings are not spared as they are desecrated and marred with hate graffiti written on the walls.”  Christians are living in fear.  Some of them are secret believers like Femi* and Alim*

 

November 6 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I encourage you to watch the moving video, Pray With Them from Open Doors and try to imagine what it would be like to live in a country where you have to go underground in order to worship or face prison, persecution, torture or death.

 

Keep the fires of faith burning.  Do not let anyone or anything extinguish them.  Hold fast until our blessed Lord Jesus Christ comes and you receive your crown.

Take the Pledge

[T]he more I traveled and met with girls and learned from experts about this issue, the more I realized that the barrier to girls’ education isn’t just resources. It’s also about attitudes and beliefs – the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education; that women should have no role outside the home; that their bodies aren’t their own, their minds don’t really matter, and their voices simply shouldn’t be heard – First Lady Michelle Obama

Last night, I watched the CNN Documentary: We Will Rise with First Lady Michelle Obama and was inspired and moved when I heard the stories of the girls in Liberia and Morocco who were to meet her.  It made me think of how some of our children take education for granted.  These girls long to be in a classroom, learning but sadly, they are denied this because of child marriage, pregnancy and poverty.  If a family has a boy and a girl, the boy will go to school while the girl stays at home.  And there’s belief that girls belong at home not in schools.  Those who are fortunate to get an education have to walk a long way to school in areas that are not safe.

One girl lived with her uncle and aunt because her mother wanted her to have an education.  She worked hard, keeping the home, taking care of her cousins before going to school.  At night, from 9-11pm she studied her books using a flashlight to see in the dark room while everyone else was asleep.  Her education helped to save her uncle’s life.

When the Ebola broke out in Liberia, she recognized that her uncle had the symptoms of the disease.  At first he dismissed what she was saying because she was a girl but she insisted and he was quarantined and then nursed back to health.  She had learned the symptoms in her Biology class.  Her favorite subject is Science.  Perhaps, one day she will become a scientist.  Another girl dreamed of being a journalist while another wanted to be an engineer, a discipline that was predominantly male.  You can watch her story here.

In Morocco, girls were missing school for five days.  Meryl Streep discovered why.  Here’s the clip.

http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2016/10/09/we-will-rise-film-meryl-streep-morocco.cnn/video/playlists/cnn-films-we-will-rise/

Girls need to know that they are valued and that they deserve to have an education. Educating a girl will change not only her life but the lives of many.  Take action today and sign the petition for more girls to receive education.  Help their dreams to become reality. Education is key to success, quality life and opens the door to so many opportunities.  No one should be denied a basic right such as education.  Take the pledge and give a girl the opportunity to have an education.  TOGETHER, WE CAN LET GIRLS LEARN!

 

We’re in this together.  Because these girls are our girls.  They are us.  They each have the spark of something extraordinary inside of them just like our daughters – and our sons – and their fate is very much our responsibility – First Lady Michelle Obama

Source:  CNN.com; Girl Up

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