Human mentality is a subtle and complex phenomenon, and mental health depends on the multiple social and cultural factors as well as the personal and physical ones. The gender differences are great in the present-day societies of the distinct cultures. Social perceptions of gender influence the individuals’ behavior to a great extent, and since women face many more challenges and discrimination in the modern world, they are comparatively more prone to mental health disorders emergence. The physiological issues in combination with the social constraints negatively influence the female mentality. It proves that the gender distinctions play a significant role in the mental disorder experiences making it clear that it is required to take into consideration the gender differences at both social and physical levels for the appropriate treatment elaboration.
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Female Mental Health in Social, Cultural, and Economic Conditions
For a long time, the western psychiatry regarded the morbid mental states as culturally neutral and approached them without considering the ethnicity of the patient. However, recent research demonstrates that “there are profound cultural variations in the diagnosis and manifestation of mental illness” (Burr & Chapman, 1998, p. 431). The distinctions in the mental disorders in the various societies have a connection with the cultural differences, the social environment, the material and financial conditions, and inequality.
The women’s roles differ in dependence on the cultural traditions and customs. In the west, women are now freer in her actions and behaviors since the social prejudices and constraints started to lose their grip in the social worldview. However, in the countries where the social transformations happen slower, and society is grounded in the traditional heritage, women face greater inequality when attempting to apply for a job and achieve the financial independence.
The cultural determination of the individual self-perception, the behavioral norms and deviations and its influence on the social interrelations should be regarded in the mental morbidity diagnostic processes. “The diagnostic terms such as depression should not be regarded as the universal concepts but are associated with cultures that ‘psychologize’ experience in line with a particular world view” (Burr & Chapman, 1998, p. 434). The psychological distress a woman experience in the different cultural communities thus is influenced by the cultural circumstances and the personal self-image inspired by those circumstances.
The biological males’ and females’ differences were proved by many researchers. It is considered that women “are more affected by strong feelings” and are “more vulnerable to emotional problems” (Hirshbein, 2010, p. 158). These characteristics became stereotypes and, during the time, they proved to be insufficient evidence for the various mental disorders emergence among women. The cultural, social, and political implications influence the female mental health much more than the biological factors.
For a very long time, “normative male and female behaviors were strictly defined and appeared to be based in nature” (Hirshbein, 2010, p. 161). The woman’s social role is interrelated with the childbirth ability that is still regarded as the primal female social function in many cultures. The attempts to resist the social preconceptions put a lot of pressure on women, especially in the developing and collectivist countries, where a woman is expected to be involved in taking care of others rather than herself.
Woman’s Social Role and its Impact on the Mental Distress Development
The postpartum or postnatal depression is the exclusively female mental disorder that has both physical and socio-cultural backgrounds. Some psychiatrist consider that childbirth and parenthood as “normal stresses that might produce symptoms of mental illness in some women,” but many researchers also claim that the postnatal depression can be caused by the conflicts between the female biological function and its perception by the society and the woman’s pursuit of professional career and financial independence.
During childbirth, a woman undergoes tremendous mental and physical changes. The high level of stress puts the mental state at risk. When a woman can’t efficiently cope with the changes, she experiences the state that is called postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is characterized by melancholy, feeling of guilt, anxiety, social self-isolation, sleeping and eating disorders, high level of self-distrust regarding the ability to take care of a newly born child. Postpartum depression regularly “begins within four weeks of childbirth and may continue for several months or even a year” (Ahmad et al., 2015, p. 766).
One of the causes of the distress in the postnatal period is the hormonal imbalance. However, the depressive state is more likely can be triggered by the various circumstances of personal or social character. “Stressful life events such as abuse, poverty, poor relationships, death of a loved one or looking after a dependent family member can trigger depression” (Ahmad et al., 2015, p. 766). The emotional and physical stress related to the taking care of the baby’s wellness and health also provokes tenseness and contributes to depression development.
It is observed that postnatal depression is most frequently happen among the undergraduate adolescents who belong to lower social class families and is avoided “in better literate and socioeconomic statuses” (Ahmad et al., 2015, p. 765). These findings prove the influence of the social conditions on women’s mental health. First of all, it is the women’s roles and social identities that emphasize their “subordinate status” in “the contexts of work, family, and community” and, therefore, create social inequality and discrimination (Carmen, Russo, & Miller, 1984, p. 17). Thus, the social structure that supports the race and gender inequality in the rewards distribution and work opportunities availability creates potential threats for the female psychological well-being.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that depression is currently the fourth most common disorder for women, but by 2020 it is expected to be second only to heart disease” (Lazear, Pires, Isaacs, Chaulk, & Huang, 2008, p. 127). In every part of the world, the depressed mental states are associated with poverty and uneven distribution of wealth and resources. However, this issue is more prominent in the culturally diverse societies with repeated cases of discrimination on racial and gender basis. In the USA, “for low-income women and women of color, prevalence rates for maternal depression are twice as high as those for white women” (Lazear et al., 2008, p. 127).
It is reported that depression is often caused by the suspense of the negative outcomes and consequences both for a woman and her children. However, the social challenges oppress women not only during the postnatal period but throughout their lives. Under the great pressure of difficulties in employment, irregular payments, and constant worries about the family members women find themselves in the depressive states that have multiple negative effects on the health, social performance, and achievements.
The Issues of Self-Image in Relations to Socially-determined Standards
Along with the normative male and female behavior, society dictates the norms of appearances. Society has created the “culturally-determined standards of appearance” that influence the social acceptance and the way a person perceives himself or herself (Izydorczyk, 2011, p. 21). In western culture, the dictated standards of slim or skinny shape and attractiveness put a significant pressure on the mental sustainability of those who for some reasons cannot suit them.
The individual perception of own body and its attractiveness is deeply interrelated with the self-esteem. Women, especially in their adolescence, tend to over-evaluate the significance of the social standards regarding appearance making them an absolute value. The obsession with the norms of appearance creates anxiety, depression, and a variety of eating disorders that disturb the social interrelations and performance.
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Women are prone to eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa much more than men. The main reason provoking the eating disorders among women is the social anxiety that “is defined as a fear of being negatively evaluated by others in social situations” (Obeid, Buchholz, Boerner, Henderson, & Norris, 2013, p. 141). The cases of social anxiety are common across the female adolescence and are often grounded in the inability to fit in the social standards of appearance and beauty. The young women are highly dependent on the appreciation of their peers and friends, and the dependency provokes fear of failure that makes a person anxious and pushes her towards the eating disorder emergence.
The connection between eating disorders and low self-esteem is observed by many researchers. A personal self-evaluation includes many aspects and depends on the social, scholastic, interpersonal achievements. The appearance standards affect the self-perception greatly. The physical shape and weight esteem is regarded as of greatest significance in relation to eating disorders. It is reported that the low sense of self-worth and the high level of social anxiety make the treatment of the eating disorders difficult. It is suggested to implement programs that are aimed at the increase of the sense of self-value instead of dealing with the eating disorder directly (Obeid et al., 2013, p. 151).
The mental distress that young women experience in adolescence becomes a huge problem. The teenagers’ mindset is extremely vulnerable and can be easily oppressed by circumstances of a different kind. The social conventions, prejudices, and expectations put a lot of pressure on the psychological state. The socially influenced disorders and anxieties interfere with the individual’s behavior and negatively affect the transition of the teenager into adulthood. Although primarily the eating disorders are considered to be the issue of adolescence, the more mature women experience mental disorders that push them to severe eating restrictions as well. The relations of the eating disorders with the social anxiety prove that mental health is deeply interrelated with the social and cultural conditions.
The distinctive features of the female mental disorders depend on the differences in the physical conditions as well as the cultural and socioeconomic ones. The socially-determined conception of the woman’s role and the high demands from the family and community members put a lot of pressure on the women’s psychological sustainability. The higher rates of women’s depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders are explained by the greater challenges women face in the present-day society. The findings of the current research prove that mental issues among the female population cannot be understood merely from the biological perspective but require the consideration of the social factors in the illness diagnosis. The deeper understanding of the social and cultural influences on the female psyche will make the diagnosis adequate and will support the provision of a more efficient treatment.
Ahmad, M., Butt, M., Umar, B., Arshad, H., Iftikhar, N., & Maqsood, U. (2015). Prevalence of postpartum depression in an urban setting. Biomedical Research, 26(4), 765-770.
Burr, J., & Chapman, T. (1998). Some reflections on social and cultural considerations in mental health nursing. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 5, 431-437.
Carmen, E., Russo, N., & Miller, J. (1984). Inequality and women’s mental health: An overview. In P. P. Rieker & E. Carmen (Eds.), The gender gap in psychotherapy: Social realities and psychological processes (pp. 17-39). New York, NY: Springer.
Hirshbein, L. (2010). Sex and gender in psychiatry: A view from history. Journal of Medical Humanities, 31, 155-170. Web.
Izydorczyk, B. (2011). A psychological diagnosis of the structure of body self in a group of selected young Polish females without eating or other mental disorders. Archives of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 2, 21-30.
Lazear, K., Pires, S., Isaacs, M., Chaulk, P., & Huang, L. (2008). Depression among low-income women of color: Qualitative findings from cross-cultural focus groups. Journal of Immigrant Minority Health, 10, 127-133. Web.
Obeid, N., Buchholz, A., Boerner, K., Henderson, K., & Norris, M. (2013). Self-esteem and social anxiety in an adolescent female eating disorder population: Age and diagnostic effects. Eating Disorders, 21, 140-153. Web.