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Seeing What’s Right In Front of Your Face—International Perspectives in Women’s Mental Health » Women's Courage

Seeing What’s Right In Front of Your Face—International Perspectives in Women’s Mental Health

February 17th, 2011 by bisi Leave a reply »

For several weeks I have been trying to expand my scope on mental health issues that affect young women into more international perspectives, but have had limited success. I scoured several databases, trying to explore what issues consistently threaten the mental health of young women globally, even just women globally, but it seems that most of the literature is focused in developed nations and often only in the US. I know that mental disorders and illness affects young girls and women all over the world (Afifi, 387), but I could not understand why it was so hard to find research reflecting this fact. Then it dawned on me. Maybe that was just it. Maybe the lack of research being done on mental health in developing nations was a critical issue itself. Maybe the fact that mental illness was taking a backseat to physical illness was another concurrent issue.

When we think of developing countries, let’s be honest many of us automatically think, ‘Let’s resolve communicable diseases such as AIDS…mental illness can wait’. This seems reasonable until we examine and understand the complexity of how mental disorders are seen globally. It has been argued time and time again that the estimated global burden of mental health disorders have been underestimated due to the unintended consequences of separating mental health from mainstream efforts to improve physical health in many developing countries. (Prince, 859) Consequently, there is a general under-appreciation for the interactions of overall wellness and physical health with mental health. For example, a fact often overlooked is that mental illness increases the risk for communicable and non-communicable disease and contributes significantly to many injuries, both intended and unintended. (Prince, 859) Therein, if we are truly trying to fight diseases such as AIDS from all avenues, then we should also understand it from a mental health perspective.

Also, I read Seedat et. al’s article about the gender differences in the WHO’s mental health surveys a few weeks back and remembered that they discussed the fact that there were lower response rates in developing countries. (Seedat, 791) They tried to explain it by saying it might have been due to traditional gender roles, but underreporting occurred across the board in both genders and was overall worse in women. So perhaps we should be placing a global emphasis on mental health and wellness, in general and especially for women. However, even in developed countries we have only recently begun to place an emphasis on understanding and improving mental health and so there isn’t a model to follow. Furthermore, the way the world seems to work is that issues are often advocated first in men, and then applied, often without alteration, in women.

So what can we do? Sitting back and waiting is not an option. Why not encourage women to seek out help and better understand their mental health? Why don’t we try and understand what barriers currently exist that make this difficult to achieve?

In many developing countries, it has been noted that women often complain about a lack of privacy, confidentiality and information about available services. (Afifi, 386) These are all key aspects to successful interventions in mental health and without them men and women alike will face hardship in establishing mental wellness. In particular regions, such as the Middle East issues like domestic violence are not recognized and therein women having mental disorders in relation to domestic violence can never experience a full resolution to their mental health if the cause of their disturbance is not even recognized. (Afifi, 389) In many Asian countries, dominating patriarchal systems consistently affect the value of women and therein less resources are spent on girls. (Patel, 411)

Overall though, it seems that the most critical issue I have learned about young women and mental health internationally is the consistent lack of awareness for mental health globally. This overwhelming complacency for mental health is the biggest barrier to interventions for women’s mental health and until we recognize mental health and its interactions with physical health, we will only be able to scratch the surface of other pressing barriers such as patriarchy, domestic violence, and lacking services.

Work Cited

Afifi, M. (2007). Gender differences in mental health. Singapore Medical Journal 48(5): 385-391.

Patel, V., Kirkwood, B.R., Pednekar, S., Pereira, B., Barros, P., Fernandes, J., …& Mabey, D. (2006). Gender disadvantage and reproductive health risk factors for common mental disorders in women: A community survey in india. Archives of General Psychiatry 63: 404-413.

Prince, M., Patel, V., Saxena, S., Maj, M., Maselko, J., Phillips, M.R., & Rahman, A. (2007). No health without mental health. Lancet 370: 859-877.

Seedat, S., Scott, M., Angermeyer, M.C., Berglund, P., Bromet, E.J., Brugha, T.S., … & Kessler, R.C. (2009). Cross-national associations between gender and mental disorders in the world health organization world mental health surveys. Archives of General Psychiatry 66(7): 785-795.



  1. hannahky says:

    This is an eye-opening post, Bisi! I absolutely agree that more focus needs to be put on women’s mental health worldwide. I’m also wondering if addressing men’s mental health might hold another kind of solution. You referred to the AIDS crisis as an example. Particularly in conflict situations, AIDS transmission can be linked to rape. I think most would agree that rape is result of some sort heavy psychological problem in the perpetrator… so if we provided better mental health services to both women and men, maybe we could really make a difference.
    After all, we know that a lot of violence and crime here in the states can be based in unstable mental health, so why should it be different anywhere else?

  2. csendax says:

    I found your last comment on how the largest barrier to women’s mental health is the general ignorance of the physical reality and significant impact mental health has on our lives. I completely agree! I do not think we can even begin to talk and construct a detailed plan to eradicate the stigma against women’s mental health in developing countries, until we have erased or blurred the stigma that is very present here in America. Much of the great strides we have made in the AIDS epidemic has come from private donations from individuals and large companies. We cannot get as far in the women’s mental health movement until there is a strong, urgent desire of individuals to help secure mental health, as then donations will emerge, and from there, hopefully change.

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