By- Vaidehi Gautam and Europa Dolay

In the month of June , Gender Impact Studies Centre (GISCI), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi conducted a special talk on Gender and Mental Health. The event was chaired by Professor Vibhuti  Patel, former professor, TISS Mumbai. Dr Meenu Anand (Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, University of Delhi) was invited as the speaker. The discussants of the event were Prof Nilima Srivastava, Dr Varudhini Kankipati, Dr M Manjula, Prof Smita Deshpande, Dr Ananya Mahapatra and Dr Kotteswara Rao. this discussion was a part of IMPRI’s series “The State of Gender Equality #GenderGaps”.

Dr Anand is a faculty in the Department of Social Work in University of Delhi with an expertise in the area of gender and mental health. She has a vast publication in the form of books as well as research papers in national and international journals highlighting issues related to gender, mental health and social work within interdisciplinary frameworks. 

In her opening remarks, Dr Patel laid down the objective of the talk being a discussion on the book, edited by Dr Anand, titled “Gender and Mental Health: Combining Theory and Practice”. She remarked how, according to the WHO, mental health problems are among the most important contributors to global burden of disease and disability. This issue gets more accentuated in the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America due to economic hardships and traditional gender norms. Mental health challenges of the queer community, persons with disabilities and sex workers get accentuated due to societal prejudices and social exclusion from developmental needs such as education, health, career, shelter and space in civil society as citizens. She further addressed the recently challenged misogynistic  theorisations of Freud and social Darwinism by feminist scholars, as well as the universalist ethic approach. Women movements have provided fresh inputs regarding individual and group counselling, popularly known as consciousness raising exercise, that enable women in groups to share experiences, problems, feelings, dreams, utopia and action plan for rebuilding shattered lives. Consciousness raising can be seen as enabling all the victims of violence to overcome false consciousness and empower them. Dr Patel also talked about self-help groups organised by members of the queer community which help them in a similar way. With this backdrop, Dr Patel welcomed Dr Anand to address the event.

Dr Anand began with the premise surrounding how mental health is a gendered issue. She underlined the role of pandemic in deepening the issues of mental health across the world, which increases the need for a focused analysis of mental health through the lens of gender. Self-reflection is critically important in order to dive into this discourse of gender and mental health. Dr Anand divides this conversation on gender and mental health into three main domains: 1. Psychosocial Perspective 2. Gendered trends with respect to mental illness       3. The book that was written by Dr Anand herself. She briefly concentrated upon each of these domains, trying to make significant correlations between gendered social conditioning and the psyche of the gendered bodies in such a setting. The intersections of other socio-economic identities also play a huge role in determining the nature of one’s mental health. The biocentric approach to mental illnesses was criticised by Dr Anand. This has led to poor handling of mental illness problems. Gender needs to be a parameter while approaching a mental illness issue. While outlining these main issues, Dr Anand introduced her book Gender and Mental Health: Combining Theory and Practice while talking about the core objective behind writing this book and its need in the contemporary gender and mental health discourse. She then further discussed the contents of the book, summarising the aim of each section. The book’s biopsychosocial approach and amalgamation of both theory and practice makes it a unique collection of academic texts which would be useful for academicians, professors, lawyers, students, social workers, doctors, etc. Dr Anand concluded her talk by stressing upon the need for more explicit candour while navigating the conversation on mental health.

The discussion on the book began with Dr Nilima Srivastava. Dr Srivastava pointed out the effect on mental health of nearly every person who had to face the pandemic as a result of COVID diagnoses, online classes, work from home, overburdening of household chores, financial instability, etc. In the light of such issues, as mentioned by Dr Srivastava, the book is an exemplary effort that compliments conceptual understandings with theory as well as give practical anecdotes to personalise the understanding on the subject from various grounds. The imminent threat of an upcoming “mendemic” was referenced by Dr Srivastava in her concluding remarks.

The next discussion was led by Dr Smita Deshpande on her understanding of schizophrenia and sociological as well as biological determinants, especially in the Indian gendered context. Dr Deshpande began with stating the gender disparity in medical sciences; how women are the least studied subject in the field which often leads to stigmatising misconceptions. Though certain parameters of illnesses are driven by biological differences, despite that, mentally ill women with serious conditions find themselves at the bottom tier when it comes to adequate research, treatment and rehabilitation. There is also a large social overlay despite the biological factor. 

The discussion was taken further by Dr Ananya Mahapatra. She began her discussion by pointing out the rising cases of intimate partner violence since the onset of the pandemic, a problem that itself carries a lot of psychological ramifications threatening an upsurge of depression, anxiety and PTSD among the victims, primarily women. The inaccesibility of treatment and help is another point she raised owing to stigma, lack of resources, their social location, etc. These gendered considerations are important while framing policies and bringing measures regarding mental health issues on a large-scale basis. 

Dr. Kotteswara Rao, Assistant Director of Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCAR) Chennai, was the next discussant on line, who discussed the response of the state government to mental health concerns and resource support to approach mental health issues. He said even though Tamil Nadu is way forward in their mental health programmes, it is still trial based and not accessible to many because of lack of enough ambulance services, availability of beds and other medical necessities, specially in several remote districts. He further talked about the gender gaps in TN mental health services and emphasized on keeping our focus on the underprivileged voices that often go unheard. Through his presentations, he mentioned about the various issues women face when they go through any mental health illness and also go through almost a social isolation by their husband’s families. Moreover, studies show that the duration of Untreated Psychosis (DUP) is higher in women in rural areas. But the state government’s steps to improve the situation have been somewhat successful as the SCARF collaborated with the Women Development Corporation Government of Tamil Nadu to train  the community workers who are involved in creating awareness and approaching women with mental health issues in rural areas. However, he also mentioned that the state intervention is just not enough and it is important that the Central Government allocate sufficient funds to all the state governments in the country. 

Source – Times of India

The next discussant was Dr. Varudhini Kankipati, who’s a practicing counsellor and, she discussed the role of counselling and the ways it has brought better support for various mental health problems faced by women specifically. She explained that because of the way women have been stereotyped as emotional by the society, they don’t usually approach mental health services until and unless it gets severe. She debunked the myth about how “counselling is easy” and rather it is important to understand that working on mental health takes time. Women generally face mental exhaustion from time to time because of the overburdening of house and care work which is assumed to be their natural job. The only time they have for themselves is when everyone sleeps at night and as a result their sleep time is disturbed in this process. Quite unfortunate that counsellors like Dr. Varudhini come across experiences of women mental health patients being gaslighted by their family members who normalise the patriarchal notions of keeping women bound by the responsibilities of the house work because of which slowly and periodically, their concept of self starts to break. 

The last discussant of the event was Dr. M. Manjula who is a Clinical Psychologist and she talked about the gaps in assessing one’s mental health by considering the bio-psycho social factor. She mentioned that there are always some kind of discrepancies in terms of whether many psychologists pay attention to the bio-psycho social factor of all the patients. She also emphasized on the importance of making sure that there is a sensitive way of assessing mental health issues faced by women and other gender minorities. It is important to identify the gaps in training, research and practice of assessing mental health issues, in order to ensure equal representation. 

After all the discussants were done putting out their points, questions from the audiences were discussed among those in the panels and the speaker. Important topics like importance of of counselling services in private as well as government educational institutions, proper licensing of counsellors in India, lack of manpower in providing different psychotherapies to those who needs them, addressing the problem of stigma around mental health, all these have been discussed at the end of the webinar. 

  • Vaidehi Gautam is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Gender Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi. She is interested in politics, public policy, gender, pop culture, and loves to stay caffeinated and revisit basic mathematics from her school days. Presently she is interning with
  • Europa is an art enthusiast, an occasional reader and a musicophile. She’s doing her Master’s in Gender Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi and her interest revolves around the issues faced by marginalised communities. Currently, she is interning at