Let’s talk for a few minutes about gender and mental illness.
I don’t want to get into statistics regarding how many men versus women have various mental illnesses. But I do want to briefly discuss how men and women handle having a mental illness.
Obviously there are no absolutes. There is no saying “all women act this way” and “all men act in this other way.” But there are definitely cultural stigmas and norms that dictate how men or women in general think they should deal with mental health.
Back to Adam and Eve
Traditionally, we expect men to be strong and stable. But why? Maybe it goes all the way back to Adam not wavering when tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Maybe our cultural expectations of men being steady and women being more easily swayed by situation or yes, mental illness, come from the very beginning of the book of Genesis. It’s like we allow or give women more leeway when it comes to emotional and mental health. We almost expect women to be more flighty, emotional, and sensitive. Those who don’t blame religious history might point to hormones, PMS, and other such “female” issues for why women get a pass to be more “emotional” outwardly than men.
But even then, there are some women (like me most of my life) who don’t want anyone else to know if there is something wrong, women who answer “fine” when asked how everything is going, even if things definitely aren’t fine. Even women sometimes feel the need to hide what is going on beneath the surface–especially when it comes to mental health issues.
What is bravery?
But the fact remains that women still are allowed more of a “free pass” than are men when it comes to having breakdowns or mental health issues, wouldn’t you agree? Isn’t it more normal and less looked down upon for a woman to admit she needs professional help or counseling? Often, we think a man admitting he needs help must not be as “strong” as a man who seems to be figuring things out on his own. But is this true? Or does it actually require more bravery to admit and get help than to struggle on one’s own? I think so.
Struggling with a mental illness on your own is incredibly difficult. I have been there. I was there for many years, in fact. But making the choice to get help? To say, “I’m not enough on my own and need something more”? That is so hard. Why? Because it requires humility. It requires a strength that is different from brute force, one that acknowledges our own weakness and humanity.
We aren’t perfect
It’s hard to admit that we are faulty. We don’t want to say or think they we are far from perfect. We hope (often wrongly) that we will make it through life without a challenge that will require us to admit our imperfection and need for outside help. But that’s really the point of life, isn’t it? The point is to see where and what we lack and then find the pieces somewhere else, outside of ourselves. The point is to realize that we aren’t enough on our own–we need each other and we need the Savior.
Men and women alike need to realize this and not be ashamed to go through challenges or mental health problems. They are not character flaws. They are not something we should feel like we need to hide and ignore. They are part of our mortal experience, and they are opportunities for us to grow and develop and encourage others to do the same.
How can we overcome the “gender stigma” that accompanies mental illness?