Mental Health Care: A Feminist Issue

Most people would agree that the stigma regarding mental health has begun to abate thanks to public discussions of the matter. This is obviously great, as health problems should not be stigmatized, no matter the illness, and because it allows individuals to be honest about their mental health. This destigmatization has come in time with new revelations concerning the prevalence of mental health; according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness each year. Despite this estimation of adults who experience mental illness each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that over half of the individuals who meet the criteria for mental illness aren’t diagnosed by their healthcare providers.

Women are twice as likely as males to be affected by G.A.D. (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and panic disorder, and serious mental illness is roughly 70% more prevalent in women than in men. In general, women tend to wait longer to seek mental health care than men, with non-white women and members of the LGBTQ+ community being less likely to seek mental health treatment and more likely to report receiving inadequate care. Also, women tend to wait longer to seek treatment for mental illness (all statistics from Regis College).

Why do certain individuals tend to avoid seeking treatment?

Some argue this is the case because of an “internalized or self-stigma” due to the perceptions of others. It is a shared experience among many women and members of the LGBTQ+ community to not be taken seriously regarding their health. Being talked down to, ignored, or not taken seriously by a healthcare provider is something that many individuals experience during their lives; this is certainly something that I have experienced regarding mental health treatment. Dr. Mindy J. Erchull states that “women are more likely to be referred to as ‘crazy…’ both in daily conversation and in the media. Women have also had typical life experiences characterized as ‘disordered.’”  Members of the LGBTQ+ community are also more likely to be stigmatized and treated discriminatorily when seeking mental health treatment (visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance for more information on health care descrimination). 

The fear of being judged, called crazy, or simply ignored is one that many individuals share when it comes to seeking mental health treatment. Before seeking help for mental health issues of my own, I kept telling myself that I was making my problems up and that I just needed to ‘get over it’ and ‘act normal.’ While this is not a healthy mindset for any individual when it comes to mental illness, it is sadly common for all groups of people. 

Is this only an issue for women and the LGBTQ+ community?

In short, no! This is not an issue that doesn’t affect straight, cis men; while men are less likely to develop a mental illness, they are more likely to take their lives because of mental illness. In 2020, white men accounted for 69.68% of all suicide deaths (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). Men of all ages and races are affected by mental illness, making this an issue that is important for all individuals; the implications of poor mental health care are of course much more serious for certain groups, as discussed earlier, but it is an issue that everyone must know and care about, especially the aspects of mental health care that are belittling and discriminatory. 

Talk Space has a lot of discussion forums and posts about mental health care, LGBTQ+, and relationships. “Why Mental Health is A Feminist Issue” is an article that goes into a lot of detail surrounding this topic.

Stigmatization and discrimination in healthcare is a serious issue that goes much deeper than mental health care, and is one that disproportionately affects women, individuals of color, and those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Equality in healthcare and the ability to seek help without fear of being ignored or looked down upon is a necessary ability for all people, which makes this an extremely feminist issue. It’s important that we continue to openly discuss mental health issues and to work to destigmatize seeking help.

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