Tag Archives: Women’s History Month

The power of friendship

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe: two incredible and talented women who formed what was considered to be an unlikely friendship in the turbulent early 1950s. However, they had a lot in common. Both had experienced difficult childhoods punctuated by poverty, abuse, assault, neglect, and lack of stability, as well as a determination and courage to persevere.

Initially, Marilyn admired Ella from afar, continually listening to her recordings to help improve her own singing. Her respect was not tinged with envy; she was open about her desire to learn from somebody so talented. The two women finally met after Ella had become increasingly successful.

A highlight of their friendship was their disdain for body shaming. Even with her spectacular voice, Ella was not always booked for glamorous venues because she was considered to be not sexy or attractive enough. She played small jazz clubs for years, while her peers, Eartha Kitt and Dorothy Dandridge were booked at larger venues. She told Marilyn about her desire to play at the Mocambo, the most swanky club for jazz performances in its day, and frequented by celebrities every night to sold out shows. Marilyn immediately called the owner and presented the club with a deal: she would sit in the front show each night that Ella was performing. The club was sold out for two weeks due to her celebrity presence, and true to her word, Marilyn was seated upfront every night to support her friend.Ella faced challenges in the future, but never had to play at lesser known clubs again.

The two were close for many years, but started drifting apart as Marilyn became increasingly addicted to pills and alcohol. Ella was strongly against drugs, but continued to speak highly of her friend, stating in her biography that Monroe was a woman who was unusual and ahead of her times, but she ‘didn’t know it and didn’t believe it.’ Tragically, Marilyn died from a drug overdose in 1962 before they could repair their friendship.
*women supporting each other and rooting for each other
*women refusing to body shame others
*women becoming allies against the injustices of their day
*women openly admiring the strengths of their friends
*women using their personal sphere of influence to create opportunities for each other
* women turning up for each other
* women not criticizing other women or gossiping about them
* women genuinely enjoying each other

Mental health and friendship. Relevant in every decade.
Here’s to all the women. Women’s history month, 2022.

Mental health and Women’s History Month

Historically, one in five American women experience a major mental illness at any given time. Women tend to experience mental illness slightly differently than men. Specifically, women are more prone to what are known as internalizing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, while men are more prone to externalizing mental illnesses such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and antisocial behaviors. An internalizing mental illness is one which causes a person to turn inward. It often leads to withdrawal, ruminating, loneliness, and feelings of sadness. Women who find themselves retreating from life and internalizing their emotions may be experiencing major depression or an anxiety disorder.

Women also tend to experience more physical symptoms in the context of mental illness than men. Headaches, stomachaches, chronic pain, and high blood pressure can all be symptoms of mental illness. Other physical signs include sleep difficulties, weight fluctuations, lack of energy, or a low sex drive. Physical symptoms should always be checked out by a medical doctor. But, once a medical diagnosis is ruled out, women who experience unexplained physical symptoms may consider the possibility of an undiagnosed mental illness.

Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems in Women
Women disproportionately experience some of the following risk factors for common mental disorders than men.

  • Women earn less than men. Women who are full time workers earn about one-fourth less than male counterparts in a given year.
  • The poverty rate for women aged 18 to 64 is 14.2% compared with 10.5% for men. For women aged 65 and older the poverty rate is 10.3%, while the poverty rate for men aged 65 and older is 7.0%.1
  • Victims of violence: About 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • An estimated 65% of caregivers are women. Female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.
  • Women have significant barriers to receiving mental health care, including economic barriers, lack of time or a support system, and stigmatization.

General Signs of Mental Illness
Difficulty functioning in life
Sometimes the first signs of mental illness are seen in decreased functioning. This might appear as bad grades, poor work performance, failing to following through on responsibilities, difficulty coping with stress, or problems in personal relationships.

Changes in mood and emotion
Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes or fluctuations in mood are another primary sign of many mental illnesses. This might be displayed as a depressed mood, feelings of euphoria, excessive energy, lack of emotion, or feelings of apathy. Alternatively, a person might experience excessive guilt, fear, shame, irritability, or anger.

Cognitive deficiencies
These can include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, or spells of confusion. Any troubling cognitive symptoms of this nature should be assessed for a possible mental illness.
Risky or uncharacteristic behaviors.

Mental illness sometimes leads to risky behaviors such as spending exorbitant amounts of money, engaging in risky sexual behaviors, or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes a dual diagnosis is present, in which a person experiences an addiction to drugs or alcohol in addition to a diagnosis such as depression or PTSD.

Breaks with reality
Breaks with reality are found in psychotic disorders and severe depression. These might manifest in the form of delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, or a sense of detachment from the world.
Statistics: American Psychiatric Association. “Best Practice Highlights Female Patients.

Women and Mental Health

Nelly Bly (born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, 1864-1922) was a student of psychology and an investigative journalist. After hearing of the horrible conditions for patients at a New York State asylum, she posed as ‘insane’ in order to get herself admitted. After her 10 days as an inpatient, Bly wrote about her experiences in an exposé for New York World. She witnessed inhumane treatment and disregard for personal dignity of mental health patients. Her report was the catalyst for lasting and widespread mental health reform, and was later published in book form as ‘Ten Days In A Mad-House’.
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