Gender inequality in mental health and difficulties in accessing the public system

It was for the previous International Women’s Day campaign that the State Network for Women’s Mental Health in Spain denounced the difficulties women face in accessing the Spanish public health system. Through a series of infographics under the hashtag #SaludMentalFeminista, they denounced the many violations they are subjected to.

One of the aspects stated by the campaign is the over-treatment of people with mental problems and especially women. In Spain, women are prescribed psychoactive drugs twice as often as men. Gender roles and the oversaturation of public health care help drive such overtreatment. “The fact that you are a woman has an impact because there is a tendency to think that we are exaggerating, that we are hysterical,” Estefania Arias, a representative of the state network of women, explained in a statement. Clara Gonzalez, also of the National Women’s Network, argues that “being read as a woman in a heteropatriarchal society that dismisses as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ certain attitudes that are on the rise in men only succeeds in perpetuating the roles of the genre “.

In this sense, the network argues that there is a need to integrate a gender perspective into mental health care, and providing public health with the necessary resources to avoid saturation of primary care and the specialties of Psychology and Psychiatry.

Forced income and recovery process

Many people with mental health problems face multiple and systematic violations of their rights during forced admission into the Spanish public health system.

According to Gonzalez, women suffer from specific disorders during these receptions. “We tend to be infantilized and treated as ‘exaggerated’ or ‘independent.’ As a person admitted under duress, what hurt me the most was the violation of privacy, physical contact (hugging a colleague who is experiencing difficulties), the lack of human attitude and in general tact”, he assures. In addition to the net, they condemn the lack of respect for a person’s personal space when bathing, when checking personal belongings, mechanical restraints…

For all this, the network requires compliance with the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “It is essential to aim for zero restriction and a progressive reduction of forced admission in favor of other more effective measures and in accordance with human rights,” the association asks.

Regarding the recovery process, the lack of resources in public health means that it is not given enough attention and that it is not adapted to the needs of women. A community-based model of care is needed that integrates the various social and health resources, that places the person at the center of every intervention and that offers responses to their individual needs, including a gender perspective.

“My psychiatrist does not inform me of the resources I have access to. He devoted himself only to prescribing medicine,” Arias recalled. For her part, Gonzalez faced additional difficulties: “Being a woman, overmedicated and very young, I only found myself in extreme situations that threatened my integrity and health, as I was always looking for male validation and approval in my relationships.”

Obstacles to motherhood and precarious care

Another access difficulty faced by women with mental health problems is stigma or lack of information about stopping medication if they want to become mothers.

Such is the case of Elizabeth Lemos, another of the network’s representatives, who would like to become a mother in two years, having the support she did not have then. “Society condemned and stigmatized you for having a mental health problem, and wanting to be a mother was a crime,” she laments. Lemos decries that “our right to decide whether we want to be a mother or not is constantly violated and they judge us harshly to the point that by taking away your medication and being vulnerable, they force you to have an abortion.”

In the case of Clara Gonzalez, it is clear that she does not want to be a mother. “I’m tired of being infantilized and having capable and reasonable attitudes towards me. I don’t want that for my daughters and my sons,” she says, recalling: “There are difficulties for pregnant women who want to be mothers and have mental disorders and are prescribed medication for the simple fact that there are no studies on how it affects of pregnancy.

The solution would be to promote public information, guidance and support services from a gender perspective.or on motherhood and, where appropriate, family planning, which supports women in the decision-making process in conditions of equality and freedom.

Finally, the National Women’s Network decries that the perpetuation of gender roles and the lack of public resources affects caregivers, usually women, in the unpaid private sector, which can affect their mental health. “The role of caregiver is dignified, but it’s not always a free choice,” says Gonzalez. The Red claims a non-sexist education focused on inclusion, shared responsibility and careas well as public resources that prevent the burden of this responsibility from falling mainly on women.


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