The double stigma of being a woman and having mental health issues
by Bronagh Loughlin, See Change Ambassador
For as long as I can remember, I have beared the brunt of being stigmatised for having mental health issues. Being a woman has only added to this stigma and amplified it. Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, anorexia nervosa, and self-harm. I also nearly died by suicide.
There’s no denying that when you are a woman there is a double burden of discrimination. When sharing my experience, I’ve had gender tropes thrown my way rather than experiencing empathetic compassion. Things like ‘you’re dramatic’, ‘stop being so sensitive’, ‘you need to be strong’, have been used to attack me.
For example, when I was in the height of my eating disorder, I felt so alone in the problem. Whenever I tried to speak with others about it, generally the typical stereotypes of an eating disorder would come out. People would treat it as a diet, vanity issue and say all women care obsessively about how they look.
In reality, my eating disorder was nothing to do with how I looked or wanting to achieve a certain aesthetic. It was about controlling my life which felt incredibly chaotic at the time. I have also experienced stigmatisation for being a woman with anxiety. People have mocked or tried to put me down for not being able to handle my emotions.
They failed to recognise how debilitating a mental health issue like anxiety disorder is and instead took it as yet another sensitive woman. These comments only resulted in me feeling that my mental health problems were not valid and that being vulnerable was not a source of strength.
While they did not stop me from accessing support, they certainly made me more weary or conscious of what I was saying for fear I would be shut down again. These comments were not only stigmatising me but I also stigmatised myself in the process as I began to give in to them.
When my mental health issues first began to crop up, I was so young and not entirely knowledgeable about mental health myself. This lack of knowledge in addition to the comments I was receiving from other people made me begin to question whether what they were saying was right. I felt so alone in my difficulties and that I had to keep all my intrusive thoughts and challenging experiences to myself.
Even when I did reach a point where I became more knowledgeable about mental health, these comments and opinions had still left enough scars. I still felt like the odd one out and that I did not fit in. My issues were and still are so largely misunderstood, I still struggle to love myself and treat myself with compassion. Remembering that my mental health issues are valid can be easier said than done with the stigma experiences in the back of my mind.
Not only has the double stigma impacted me negatively in recovering from my issues and accessing support, but it also impacts my male counterparts. Men I know who struggle with the same problems I do feel as though they cannot talk about their issues either due to the gender tropes that men are supposed to be strong and vulnerability is weakness.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following