Need to 'look good' and multiple care demands among stresses that impact women's mental health, report finds

Need to 'look good' and multiple care demands among stresses that impact women's mental health, report finds

Coping with multiple, intersecting care demands, such as children and older parents, the need to always “look good”, to achieve in work, and to support partners through their own hard times, are among the many stresses that impact on women’s mental health.

The pressures are outlined in Out of Silence - Women’s mental health in their own words - a report by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), published yesterday.

Conversations with more than 100 women across the country reveal how having their concerns taken seriously and being told that support will be found is a “profound moment” - at a time when many feel they have to suppress their own feelings while looking after those around them.

A number of women reiterated the message they have received from services “that medication will be relied on to help them through, rather than a supportive long-term approach".

In their own words, women described how

  • they suffer anxiety “ at very high rates - see the number of women with panic attacks. I think it comes from being everything to everyone”.
  • they are given tablets instead of talk therapy - “My mam would suffer from depression and instead of talking to her and giving her help, they just kept giving her tablets”
  • how suicide attempts are dismissed as “crying wolf”
  • how staying at home to mind children can make them feel “invisible”.
  • how ill-prepared they are for the menopause - “You’re told about the sweats but not about the anxiety”.

For younger women, “body image is a huge problem”, especially through the lens of social media, while marginalised women, including asylum seekers, homeless women, Traveller and Roma women, are disproportionately impacted by poor mental health.

Women identified a number of priorities to improve mental health and wellbeing, including providing mental health education to children in school; greater training for health professionals to deliver a service specific to women’s needs; access to free counselling and talking therapies for women, particularly those with experiences of violence; and universal access to mental health services for all women, based on need rather than ability to pay.

The report concludes that there has “ long been a perception that women are better at dealing with their own mental health, that women don’t bottle up their feelings” but it says these assumptions are “overturned by what women told us about not feeling able to voice their mental health challenges for fear of judgement, or being turned away from over-subscribed services”.

NWCI’s Women’s Health Coordinator and co-author of the report, Cliona Loughnane said recent women’s healthcare scandals “have shown the need to listen to women and use their experiences to inform health policies and the provision of services”.

Louise O’Leary, Advocacy Manager at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, said women account for the majority of admissions to their services, with the ratio of female to male admissions standing at 3:2.

The NWCI and St Patrick’s have joined forces to develop a Women’s Mental Health Network, and the report launch coincided with the first meeting of the network.


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