Women's Mental Health Series - Introduction
I am delighted to be writing for the MWF which I have found to be a safe, supportive place to grow and learn. Being a psychiatrist, a doctor and a woman has helped me appreciate the challenges of maintaining mental wellness. In this blog I am setting the scene for what I hope will be a tripartite series looking at the issues that affect women everywhere.
I am passionate about Women’s Mental Health and have grown to expand my interest in the area over the years. I believe as a woman, we have tremendous power to change lives- not just ours, but our family’s, our society’s and that of our patients’. A woman’s health is not just physical wellness as we all well know. Emotional stability and mental well being are the cornerstones of my Health/Wellness triangle. I have been very fortunate to have a twin sister who is a GP, so from our personal and professional discussions, I have grown to realise how closely physical and mental wellness are interlinked. You cannot have one without the other!
While mental health illnesses can affect both sexes, it is well known that some are more common in women such as mood disorders and eating disorders being clear examples. Several studies have shown the various factors affecting a women’s mental and emotional wellbeing including hormones, stress, sleep, exercise and nutrition. We are constantly reminded of our roles and responsibilities as a daughter, parent, spouse, mother, doctor etc, which need to be balanced with positive and supportive mechanisms both within and outside the workplace.
Women are generally known to worry more often and more easily. There are several suggestions that women are probably just wired differently. We think differently, we problem-solve differently, we react differently compared to our male counterparts. We have come to find a new way of relating and being- both personally and professionally. I would argue that women are blessed with the simple yet powerful capacity to just listen.
As medical doctors we are taught to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses. With increasing emphasis on research and evidence base, do we forget to Listen to our patients? Do we allow ourselves and our patients the privilege and comfort of being heard and understood? As in psychiatry, tackling mental health issues is not an easy task be it at home or in the workplace. But it can start with lending a listening ear. You cannot be understood until you are heard and you cannot be heard unless someone is willing to listen.
So if we need to increase awareness of mental health issues at the workplace and in our personal lives, we can start by engaging in the powerful act of Listening. I am a big advocate of Change Management and as traditional doctrine dictates, everything begins with a small step. I strongly believe that change can be effected one person at a time, wherever you are and that change can begin today by just Listening.
Dr Anney Varghese