The list of challenges affecting women is long. For one, women are more prone to certain diagnoses. They are twice as likely as men to experience depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD, and much more likely to battle body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Pay inequity, caregiving responsibilities, and gender-based violence are among the contributing risk factors to common mental health conditions. Infertility, menopause, and postpartum depression also affect many. Women are vastly underrepresented in psychology research and medical research in general. Even our empirical data is not truly representative of women’s actual needs and outcomes.
Physical and emotional caregiving roles — as daughters, mothers, partners, colleagues, and leaders can result in heavier burdens. Then there’s being underrepresented in upper level leadership at work, navigating status as a woman of color or member of the LGBTQ+ community, enduring sexual harassment, dealing with imposter syndrome, juggling parental leave (women still do the vast majority of housekeeping and child care, And this has only increased since the pandemic), and maintain the preponderance of emotional caretaking roles in pretty much all domains. Many of these challenges are often largely invisible, since women may be reluctant to discuss them at all, much less at work or even with family. Many women may not be inclined to “other” themselves further by disclosing a mental health challenge.
Black and brown women in particular are hesitant to seek mental health services, in part due to stigma, lack of resources, lack of cultural competency or training within the mental health profession, and the superwoman syndrome.
The term ego-syntonic refers to a mental state that just feels normative. The Superwoman with the Cape is an everyday reality for many women. However, it is not sustainable. Also see Take Off the Cape.
How to untangle:
Reflect on your needs.
- First, think through the nature of your mental health and your specific vulnerabilities or challenges. Is it chronic, episodic, or a one-time event?
- Consider the contributing factors. Are they work-related or limited to your personal life? Is there a gender-specific component, like childcare or workplace discrimination, that might make you more reluctant to discuss the problem at work? -Be clear about the effects. Is your mental health challenge affecting your work performance, family and friendships, your personal health?
Talk with a friend, family member, or therapist about your concerns.
- Try to brainstorm the potential asks that you could make at work to support yourself.
- You may also want to get advice from a women’s circle or ask female friends to recommend therapists, books, or podcasts that focus on gender.
- Consider whether seeking out the mental health benefits and other resources your employer provides (such as healthcare coverage to see a therapist or psychiatrist) is sufficient or if you need an accommodation (such as starting your workday later, having regular meetings with your team to breakdown tasks, or having extended deadlines for major projects).
It may help to educate yourself about the legal protections available to you. Under ADA law, if you are undergoing treatment with a licensed doctor/mental health professional, your treatment and requested accommodations cannot be used against you, especially in a company with 15 or more employees.
Find allies and safe spaces.
- Given the stigma often associated with mental health concerns or challenges, finding a safe space to tell your story and receive support from allies is a critical step. Simply realizing that you’re not alone can go a long way, especially when you may be feeling othered because of your gender. Peer support is a powerful lever to reduce stigma.
- Even outside of work, allies can teach us empathy and resilience, can spur creativity, and can fuel our goals and ambition. Having friends who provide emotional support and vice versa is highly affiliated with mental health.
For more info see Depression, Women and Heart Health.