#mentalhealthmonday – feminism and mental health

This has been a difficult post to write. There’s so much I want to say about women and female-identifying people and mental health, but the words just don’t want to come. Do you ever have that? Anyway, here’s my best shot. TW for discussion of suicide and refusal to medicate. 

In my opinion, there is an entrenched sexism in hospitals and GPs. There we go, I’ve said it. I’ve had many a conversation with my boyfriend about this, as he is a medical student. He’s told me about how much of an emphasis his medical school has put on equality of treatment, which is fantastic. However, I just can’t help but think that, from my experiences, institutionalised sexism is alive and well.

For example: A good friend of mine is very unwell. She has depression, anxiety, OCD, and generally finds life hard. This has been going on for years, with varying levels of suicidal thoughts and feelings. It took over five doctors for her to finally be diagnosed and medicated. None of her doctors would believe her, probably because she’s quite quiet and understated. Another good friend of mine had a bit of a bad spell last year – he found it very difficult to leave the house. He was immediately medicated by the first doctor he saw, and was sent to a therapist for CBT. He is quite stereotypically British in his own right – a stiff upper lip, and all that. The interesting thing? Both of my friends went to the same doctor. My female friend was denied medication.

Now, these illnesses are different, yes, but other female friends of mine have told me about similar experiences – doctors dismissing their feelings, refusing to put them on medication, or changing their medications without warning. While not quite told that they’re being female and hysterical, there is a clear degree of sexism. I personally think this is because of the statistical evidence about suicide. The 2016 Samaritans report shows that suicide rates are:

Screenshot 2017-05-08 10.55.07

(For more statistics, here is the report.)

When you look at it, it makes a terrible kind of sense. Men are still told by society that they should ‘man up’ and not express their true emotions because they’ll be thought of as weak or, God forbid, womanly. They don’t get help, and therefore are more likely to commit suicide. However, I don’t think that women should be unfairly punished by the fact that we do often seek help. Just because I am statistically less likely to commit suicide does not make my cry for help any less significant than a man’s.

When I first mentioned to my friends that I was thinking about asking my doctor for medication, they sat me down and told me how to ensure I would get them. They told me what to mention and how to act – for example, I’m very good at putting on a brave face. I like looking put together, even when my life is falling apart. I almost never go outside without a full face of makeup.  They told me I needed to be in floods of tears, and that if I arrived at the doctor looking as I normally do, I probably would not get help. I had to literally manipulate the system in order to get the medication that I so desperately needed. Simply going to the doctor was not enough. I had to ‘prove’ myself to be in danger. For some reason, I don’t think a man in my position would have to do that.

Now, I’m not saying that going to the doctor is useless, or that all doctors are misogynistic – that would be ridiculous. I’m saying that health services are, ultimately, hugely overworked institutions filled with older doctors. Sometimes personalised care is difficult, because there are so many people looking for help. I think that this is an area where feminism is desperately needed – I have no doubt that by encouraging men to speak out about their emotions and about their mental health, suicide rates will go down. The lives of men, women and non-gender conforming folks can be saved when everyone’s life is considered equal, and when women like me no longer need to prove themselves to be just as worthy of medication as men.

(I also think that there is also a racial aspect to this as well – people of colour are most certainly under-diagnosed. However, as I’m white, I can’t really talk about specific experiences with this. I’d be very interested to know what other people think.)

What do you think about this? Is this just my experience? Am I reading too much into this? What about other things, like sexuality and age? Let me know!

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16 thoughts on “#mentalhealthmonday – feminism and mental health

  1. brenhinesbooks says:

    I specifically request female doctors when I go because I trust them far more to actually listen to me. I’ve only had a couple experiences with male doctors and both of those were for minor things (such as an ear infection) so I’ve not had to experience any sexism regarding getting diagnosed but I know I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing one for mental health issues because I just don’t trust them the same way I trust female doctors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • whatthelog says:

      I feel exactly the same way. While I know intellectually that male doctors have the exact same schooling as female ones, a bit of my brain just doesn’t trust them. It’s interesting, I’ve had quite a few conversations with my boyfriend about it, and he just doesn’t understand why. I’ve tried to explain, but…idk. It might be one of those experiences that, unless you’re a female-identifying person, you just won’t understand?

      Like

  2. justanotherloststudent says:

    I definitely do not think it is your own experience or that you are reading too much into it. I’ve had experience of the British psych system for almost 10 years now, and can definitely confirm it’s not just you. Institutional misogyny is definitely a thing especially around the denial of medical treatment and diagnoses’. Both myself and my friend were given the b*shit diagnoses ‘Adjustment Disorder’ when released from psychiatric hospitals, despite teenage boys getting diagnosed with actual conditions, and we have also both been denied diagnoses’ for Autism despite both displaying symptoms as young girls.

    There’s also a really horrible systematic problem in the medical practice called “Trans Broken Arm Syndrome” (idk if you’ve heard of it) where if you’re trans, GPs and assorted medical practitioners almost always go back to you being trans as the root of the illness, even if it’s something entirely unrelated (like a broken arm). Basically, trying to actually get proper medical treatment unless you’re a white cis man is a joke.

    Liked by 1 person

    • whatthelog says:

      I hate that this has happened to you, but it’s good to know that I’m not alone. I hope you’re getting better treatment now. That’s a really good point about being denied autism diagnoses – I know that female-identifying people are severely undiagnosed. (Did I phrase that correctly? Please let me know if I say something wrong or misgender you in any way.)

      And oh my God, that is absolutely awful –
      especially that it happens so much that there’s a specific term for it. Do you think this is in some way comparable to people who are overweight, and how all medical problems are brought back to their weight, even if it is no way involved? I’m a slightly larger lady so I’ve had that happen to me a couple of times, too.
      *hugs, but only if you want them*

      Liked by 1 person

      • justanotherloststudent says:

        Hey – in terms of the terminology I would say afab (assigned female at birth) which I think is most appropriate for this context. I personally no longer identify as female and it’s an issue that affects a lot of trans people who were afab but no longer identify as female. I definitely think it is very similar!

        Like

      • justanotherloststudent says:

        No worries 🙂 It’s a learning process and I personally don’t have a problem with people getting things a bit wrong when it’s just an accident 🙂

        Like

  3. christine @ the story salve says:

    Interesting discussion! I think I’ve been very fortunate in that I haven’t encountered any overtly sexist GPs, and I’ve also always made a point to see female therapists. I’m just more comfortable with women, but I’ve also always felt that a non-male-identifying person would understand my experiences better.

    I definitely think there are multiple sides to the issue here. On the one hand, I hate that our society raises men to hide or deny their emotions, which often exacerbates what might be manageable mental health issues. On the other hand, I think women’s mental health issues are often treated as hysterical – although I’ve more often heard “dramatic” as the term of use.

    Liked by 1 person

    • whatthelog says:

      I’m really glad to hear that 🙂 All of my therapists have been pretty terrible, no matter their gender, but I can definitely understand being more comfortable with female-identifying therapists.

      Absolutely agreed – men’s mental health is such an important topic right now. I know I’ve been helping quite a few men in my life come to terms with talking about their emotions.
      And yeah, dramatic is probably a more accurate term. Men asking women if they’re ‘on their period’ or some such nonsense.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sarah says:

    I think you’re absolutely right about this!! I think even in general, not just with mental illness, women do not get the medical treatment they need and deserve at the rate they should because they’re seen as being “weak” or “hysterical”

    Liked by 1 person

    • whatthelog says:

      I agree. I’ve heard such horrible stories about doctors not believing women when it comes to their period pains and things like that. I’ve not experienced anything like that (thank goodness) but it is so disheartening that pretty much every woman has some sort of story about terrible doctors/treatments.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. highrisk1 says:

    I always insisted upon female professionals: therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, you name it. Yet here I am today–with a male psychologist and a male psychiatrist–feeling more cared for and understood that I ever have before. I did not choose either of these prominent figures in my life, but I almost feel like they were chosen for me. Experience, compassion, and listening skills: the three key characteristics they share. I hope that as mental illness becomes a hotter topic of conversation, female medical discrimination will as well.

    Like

    • whatthelog says:

      That’s really interesting. I definitely agree that those things are essential for good psychologists/psychiatrists, I guess that I just assume that I’m more likely to get them from women. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    Wow– Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences in this matter. Honestly, it’s (like most things you address in these AMAZING Monday posts) not something I ever thought about. Yes, I know that men have a higher suicide rate than women almost universally. But I never thought it might be paralleled in mental health care. That’s so heartbreaking!

    In regards to your example of having to put on a show to get care– did you do this? If so, did you try to get care without this first?

    Ugh. I’m so sorry you even have to experience anything like that.

    Like

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