Not everyone is starting from the same baseline when it comes to mental health. Gender, race, identity and age can all affect what puts pressure on us, and how it’s likely to affect us.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is ‘Inspiring Inclusion’, calling on us all to build a more inclusive world for all women. In this post, we’ll look at some of the burdens on mental health and wellbeing that women disproportionately face, and suggest some ways to help manage them.  

It’s important to know, though, that it isn’t only women who face these issues – from trauma to care responsibilities to body image, these issues can affect any of us, and all of us, regardless of gender, deserve to be heard and supported with them.  

Inequality and trauma 

Mental ill health can affect anyone, of any gender, but social inequality can have a huge impact. Women in Scotland – especially women who are from BAME backgrounds, who are LGBTQ+, or who live in poverty – are more likely to bear the weight of caring responsibilities, more likely to live in poverty, and are disproportionately likely to experience harassment, abuse and coercive control. 

Abuse and trauma 

Violence against women and girls is not over in Scotland. 1 in 10 women will deal with PTSD in their lifetime, and that often comes from gendered patterns of abuse and control. It isn’t always easy to recognise this while it’s happening, and many of us will not start processing traumatic events until years or decades later. Trauma, whether from abuse or from other sources, can affect every aspect of our lives, and make us feel shame or fear around seeking help. But you are not alone with this, and talking to people who have had similar experiences can be incredibly valuable. 

Social pressure 

Both men and women can be negatively impacted by gendered pressures to look and behave certain ways. Women are encouraged to internalise their feelings, and to meet increasingly restrictive beauty standards. This is perhaps why women and girls are consistently more likely to suffer symptoms of anxiety, disordered eating, and low self-esteem.  

We all deserve to be embraced as who we are, and often the first step is to embrace ourselves. It can be incredibly difficult in the face of social pressure, but support is out there. 

Pregnancy, childbirth and loss 

Pregnancy and parenthood can wreak havoc on our stability and mental health – beautiful as it can be, it can also be painful, frightening and downright traumatic – 1 in 20 people experience PTSD symptoms after childbirth, and BAME and disabled mothers particularly may have really negative experiences. 

Many new mothers also find themselves feeling alone with their feelings, dealing with the aftermath of pregnancy while also focusing on a newborn. It’s a huge life change which can stir up all sorts of feelings and trigger unexpected reactions, whether it’s your first or your fifth. Support, care and community can be lifelines.  

Many women, by choice or not, also go through pregnancy but don’t have children. Because of the stigma around baby loss, miscarriage, or abortion, people may feel unable to express grief, shame, anger, and any number of enormous and complicated feelings – even to themselves. We can carry that pain alone for our whole lives. It shouldn’t have to be borne in silence. 

Caring for others 

Women are often expected to take on primary responsibility for caring for others, both in and out of the home. In Scotland, women make up 60% of unpaid carers, 80% of social care workers, and 97% of childcare workers, as well as taking on a majority of childcare responsibility at home. Women are also often encouraged to take more responsibility for the feelings of those around them – and all of that can have a heavy toll on our mental health, leaving us with a lot to process and not a lot of space to process it in. 

As with any group, there are some things which women tend to face more often than others. We still live in a gender-unequal world, and improving mental health gender gaps means all of us working to change the ways in which people are attacked, disadvantaged or isolated because of their gender. But while we work to make change, we can also work to support ourselves and each other to heal and live well despite these injustices. 

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