[BLOG] Special Youth Series: Why women’s environments in developing countries often leads to depression
By Adrian Joya
Depression (n.): A mental disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, irritability, loss of interest or pleasure, guilt or low self-worth, decreased energy, inability to remember, poor sleep patterns, poor concentration and thoughts of death or suicide.
Although mental health has, for a long time, been neglected and misunderstood, its impact on the general wellbeing of the society cannot be overemphasized. Depression is the most prominent mental illness across both genders, and yet there is a marked difference in how they impact each gender. Research shows women have a 50% higher incidence of depression, leading to more frequent attempts at suicide than men.
According to WHO, depression is the leading cause of disease burden for women in all parts of the world. By contrast, men are more likely to self-medicate, which can lead to substance abuse, and despite fewer attempts at suicide, are more likely to complete the act. Given these stark differences, it follows that gender and the inequalities in both the social and economic status of men and women contribute largely to gender disparities in mental health—particularly in the context of depression.
Women’s health is inextricably linked to their status in society. It benefits from equality, and suffers from discrimination. Today, the status and well-being of countless millions of women world-wide remain tragically low (WHO).
Throughout history, women have suffered from all forms of discrimination and oppression as a result of their gender. Centuries of discrimination against women have epitomized men as physically and mentally stronger than women, more emotionally resilient, and otherwise superior in most aspects; casting women in a subordinate role.
Today, women all over the world are fighting for equal rights and justice across all sectors of development. Unfortunately, we are still far from eliminating gender inequality, as the concept is rather foreign to the cultural, religious, and political structures of many societies. As a result, millions of women continue to suffer in silence from all forms of injustice, leading them to depression and suicide.
In some African cultures, girls as young as 12 are forced into marriage by their parents or guardians. These young girls, who lack the maturity and understanding to make autonomous, uncoerced decisions concerning marriage, suffer from countless complications as a result of this atrocity. For one, a child as young as 12 is anatomically ill-equipped to carry a pregnancy or to deliver safely. She may face many life-endangering health complications, particularly if she requires a Caesarean section. Following a traumatic birth, a child bride may experience postpartum or postnatal depression, which would limit her emotional and mental fortitude, hobble her attachment to her infant, and potentially adversely affect her baby’s wellbeing.
A lot of these young women may be married to men for whom they have no affection. Of course, healthy intimate partner relationships must be built on affection, respect, and understanding amongst other things. For these young women, their only role is to serve and please their husband, while their own happiness is deemed irrelevant. This can lead to low self-esteem, low self-worth and feelings of helplessness, which may eventually translate into depression.
Additionally, the high rate of illiteracy and poverty among women in many developing countries also contributes to high incidence of mental disorders. In a world where formal education is considered a prerequisite for more rewarding jobs, uneducated women have a very hard time trying to earn an income. This leads to financial constraints, especially for single mothers. The stress of trying to bring up a child under such difficult conditions is enough to trigger major depression.
Physical abuse is also one of the most important causes of depression in women around the world. It includes rape, trafficking for sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, and intimate partner violence. Many women who suffer from these sorts of abuse—or even less flagrant ones—never report it. Gender-based violence often evokes shame, humiliation and dishonor in victims, but because of their low self-esteem and illiteracy, they keep silent. In the long run, this kind of trauma can catch up to them, as posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental disorders.
Rights and empowerment
It is evident that gender inequality plays a key role in the declining mental health status of women in the developing world. It is also a fact that women are the caregivers, and the ones who affect and shape every individual in society. Their role, therefore, cannot be overemphasized. For any community to attain prosperity and development, it must first respect the rights of its women, empower them through education, and ensure that they are protected against all forms of discrimination, oppression, and violence. That way, both men and women can work together to make the world a better place.
As we seek to create global youth engagement in all international development spaces, Every Woman Every Child is partnering with Wellbeing for Women Africa, encouraging young writers to discuss discuss key issues affecting women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and wellbeing.