India houses the largest youth population of 600 million in the world. Therefore, it is imperative to prioritise health and well-being for such a massive population to realise its demographic well-being. Mental and physical health amongst adolescents and the young population is one of the significant hurdles in the country's progress. Gender is a critical determinant of mental health amongst people. Women showcase symptoms of a higher level of internalising disorders, while men showcase a higher level of externalising disorders.
India Accounts To 17% of Total Suicide Deaths
Unfortunately, suicide is the leading cause of death in India, and the subcontinent ranks amongst the top nations for deaths by the same. Almost 17 per cent of 800,000 suicide deaths of the world are of Indians. In the age group of 15-29 or 15-39 years, suicide is the most common cause of death. Deaths because of immense academic pressure are considered the most prevalent cause; however, data by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) shows that romantic affairs, marriage-related issues, and family problems were the primary causes of 45 per cent of deaths in the country.
Even in death, gender does not fail to make its presence felt. In this case, the women seem to be ahead in the race than men. Contrary to the global trends or other trends in India, the rate of suicide in young women is way more than in men. Shockingly, the gap widens in the case of married women. According to studies, young married women account for the highest proportion of suicide deaths among women.
Even though the rates of substance abuse vary across the world, it is undeniable that it is rising. Women are more likely to accredit their drinking habits to a traumatic event or a stressor. Additionally, women who are more vulnerable to alcohol or drug abuse are likely to have experienced sexual or physical abuse.
Most Prevalent Causes
The apparent causes vary from socio-economic restrictions, having no control over their sexuality, lack of mobility, the threat of early marriage and pregnancy and increasing harassment. Apart from that, they face societal and familial pressures for fundamental needs like education and independent life. The occupations available for them, especially in lower-income jobs, pay lesser than they do to men. Such exploitation bears down on an individual's mental and physical well-being.
For centuries now, the gap between the binary genders have been socially defined and looked at through the lens of sexism. In such an arrangement, men assumed superiority over women and maintained it through domination. Thus, for the longest time, we have under-estimated the role of women in society. Such conditions lead to the manifestation of feelings of self-loathing, self-pity and self-criticism for the women.
Research studies over the years have found the relationship between mental health and lack of autonomy, familial support and economic hardships. For women belonging to the marginalised communities, the struggles multiply. The lesser talked about rigid norms of sexuality, community, and legal settings significantly impact an individual's dignity and human rights.
A report by the World Health Organization cited that 41.9 per cent of women experience depressive disorders and disability from neuropsychiatric diseases compared to 29.3 per cent in men. The most discouraging report was that the lifetime prevalence rate of violence against women ranges from 16 per cent to 50 per cent. For every death by suicide in India, 200 other people are battling suicidal ideation.
'Motherhood in childhood is a critical mental and physical threat to young women. Young girls are underprepared physically and psychologically to experience the implications of pregnancy on their minds and bodies. Between 6 to 48 per cent of young Indian mothers experience depression. In the West, experts link post-partum depression to suicides; however, pre-natal during pregnancy and child-birth is more prevalent in India. Such feelings are driven by socio-economic discrimination, the pressure of birthing a male child and unreported domestic violence.
NCBI quoted an eye-opening report by the United Nations that mentioned that around two-thirds of married women in India are victims of domestic violence. The practice results in a woman losing seven working days in the country. Furthermore, 70 per cent of women falling in the age bracket of 15 to 49 years are victims of regular beating, rape and coerced sex. Women have to experience public humiliation, sexual trafficking, mental and physical torture and female foeticide. A woman's reproductive roles like child-bearing, infertility, failure to deliver a male child ultimately lead to wife-battering and female suicide.
The mental hospitals, too, tend to cater primarily to the needs of men. There is often a sex-based distribution of beds. In government hospitals, the male to female ratio for allotment of beds was 73:27. A woman's health cannot be considered in isolation of social, economic and political environments. We must incorporate the mental and physical health across a woman's lifecycle to bring about the necessary change.
What Needs To Be Done
It is extremely important to understand that women's mental health is never exclusive of social, political, or economic issues prevailing in the society. Very often, the focus of our policies revolves around the narrow perspective of reproductive and maternal health instead of incorporating physical and mental health throughout the lifecycle.
While framing policies and schemes for women, one must recognize determinants of the broader, social, economic, and legal factors that affect women's lives. The given community set up of the sociocultural, economic, legal, infrastructural, and environmental factors must be accommodative of the needs and wants of women in general.
Education, training and interventions are crucial to targeting the social and physical environment that is essential for a woman to nurture her mental health. Primary care providers must ensure women are educated and supported in their quest to lead a healthy life, both mentally and physically. Many women continue to not report incidents of violence, abuse, or assault to the police due to reasons like feeling guilty or responsible for the crime; a belief that the incident is a 'normal part and parcel of life; fear of reprisal; intimidation by the partner; financial dependence, etc. A lot of times, women sense an inability to respond to such incidents due to the psychological and emotional arising from repeated mental trauma.
The only way forward is to educate women and young girls. Education, in every sense, provides women with the awareness of rights and resources as well as the capability to fight injustice and exploitation.