February 24, 2016

Mental Health Care and the “Hysterical Woman"

We've all heard it before. "All women are crazy!", "She must be on her period", "Calm down sweetie, no one wants to deal with a hysterical woman".   For generations there has existed the stereotype of the hysterical woman. A person born with internal genitalia who is consequently unable to calmly and rationally maneuver the day to day difficulties of life.

Female Hysteria

       Stereotypes of impaired mental capacities among historically repressed demographics are not uncommon. During the civil rights movement, many claimed that people of color were inherently violent, And even today, many homophobes have been known to make the argument that gay, lesbian, and transgender people are more likely to ignore personal boundaries or lack of consent because that's "just how they are". Many attempts at defending bigoted ideologies begin with the phrase, " It's in their nature.  "

Therein lies the basis for nearly every discriminatory belief held towards another demographic.

  Now, of course there has been no scientific evidence to support the theory that certain demographics will behave in certain ways based on biology alone. And of course changing society's perception of a group of people is always difficult, particularly when that perception is overwhelmingly negative.

     However, if women make up roughly 50 percent of the global population, why does this particular view point of women being insane continue to not only exist, but flourish?  A significant portion of supporters of the hysterical woman concept seem to exist among the female population themselves. While speaking with my own female friends during the pre-writing process, over half seemed to be of the opinion that women are usually less psychologically stable than men. When asked how they learned this concept, many replied with something along the lines of "I'm not sure, it just seems to be something that people always say", followed by an anecdote of their boyfriend, father, or brother telling them that they are crazy.

      As irritating as this thought processes is towards any woman who would rather have her thoughts and opinions taken seriously, this mindset is also incredibly harmful to women who are actually mentally ill. When an entire group of people is branded with the derogatory label "Crazy", it makes it incredibly difficult for members of the group to assess their own needs in regards to their mental health. According to the World Health Organization, "Communication between health workers and women patients is extremely authoritarian in many countries, making a woman's disclosure of psychological and emotional distress difficult, and often stigmatized. When women dare to disclose their problems, many health workers tend to have gender biases which lead them to either over-treat or under-treat women."

      The World Health Organization also reports a trend of physicians having a gender bias towards patients with depression. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, (or other mild to moderate mental illnesses), and more likely to be prescribed mood altering drugs when compared to their male counterparts.

      Now, you may be wondering why I am choosing this topic for my first entry here at The Unholy American. My own personal experience seeking treatment for severe obsessive compulsive disorder has led me here. After my initial diagnosis as a child, I was not treated for my symptoms until fourteen years later. I had developed an eating disorder during that time, and the reason why very few of my classmates or teachers had noticed my obsessive calorie counting, compulsive hand washing, and constant panic attacks, was because "all women are crazy". To this day, I am still attempting to repair the damage that has been inflicted on my body, as a result of my own illness running rampant throughout my brain.

So if ever you find yourself, dear member of society, in such a position as to label all women as crazy, remember this; Across the world, there are millions of women--of all ages and walks of life-- who are fighting with their own brains. For every moment of every day. And every reinforcement of the "hysterical woman" concept reduces their chance of getting the help that they so desperately need. Besides, there are plenty of ways to invalidate someone's opinions. You just have to take the time to come up with a better argument, rather than relying on a superficial aspect of your opponent, such as gender.

"Gender and Women's Mental Health." WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 24 Feb 2016.

author Änicka Carlson
About Änicka

Änicka is a 21 year old college student residing in northern Arizona. She can typically be found practicing, listening to film scores, or glaring menacingly at an improperly cited research paper (that might or might not be her own work).