"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." – Helen Keller
Something extraordinary happened on social media recently. Indian Twitter erupted with story after story by women of their experiences with sexual abuse and the consequent depression. There are many experiences that can lead to depression and sometimes, there is no one particular reason. What is significant here is that women came together to share stories, and support each other.
Psychologically, experts suggest that any major life changing event can lead to the development of some form of anxiety, or depression. Depression takes over your everyday functioning , draining you of energy, hope, and making it impossible to do what will make you feel better. In our country, because of the popular appropriation of the term, and its significance, ‘depression’ is sidelined as being morbid, emo, episodes of heavy sadness that are dismissed with “take a chill pill”, and confused with mood swings.
Statistics show that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. For women, depression is intrinsically linked to biology, social pressures, professional standing, and domestic spaces. The symptoms of depression vary from mild to severe, and are determined by their impact on a woman’s ability to function.
Biological problems: Adolescence initiates the gender difference in depression, and body dissatisfaction increases in girls during their sexual development due to the unrealistic standards of beauty and body image propagated by our society. Hormonal fluctuations during menstrual cycle can lead to premenstrual syndrome, which can be severe and disabling for a lot of women. There’s also hormonal changes due to pregnancy, other issues relating to pregnancy like an unwanted pregnancy, infertility and miscarriage. New mothers can also develop postpartum depression. Perimenopause and menopause can also throw you into episodes of severe depression.
Social pressures: Society tries to govern just about everything that you do. It starts with conditioning in the womb, and you grow up believing certain things about your gender as natural, when they have become normalized over time. Unrealistic expectations of body image, rigid gender roles, different social expectations from women, and the attempt to limit them as daughters, mothers, wives, can feed into developing depression as a consequence.
Professional and domestic pressure: Studies show that women are more likely to develop depression as a byproduct of stress. They physiologically respond to stress differently, and produce more stress hormones than men do. Marital or relationship problems, familial responsibilities, balancing the pressures of work and home life, death of loved one or some other major stressful life event that leaves you feeling useless, helpless and alone.
In a society that is becoming increasingly apathetic, it is important to not deal with depression entirely alone. You need a support system drawn from people who care, who would listen, and just be there even if they are not aware, and help you to be yourself. Social support can lead to genuine connections, spending time with people who really care about you even when you don’t care about yourself, and accepting that you matter. Numerous studies indicate social support is essential for maintaining physical and psychological health. They have also documented the harmful effects of a poor or negative system of support. A positive support system can enhance resistance to stress, help protect against trauma-related disorders, gradually decrease depression symptoms, and reduce medical morality.
One of the most common symptoms of depression is the inability to socialize. Depressive conditions are often linked with isolation. Depression is also selfish, and turns you into a captive. The last thing you want to do is talk to someone about why, when it is easier to avoid contact and withdraw instead. This feeds into your depression, it wants nothing more than to make you feel guilty, shameful, enhance your feeling of being alone, and make you believe that no one will ever understand or care. Although it will be hard to reach out to people and ask for their time, if not help, connecting with someone is the first step to recovery.
When a woman develops depression, she tends to blame herself. Guilt and shame are internalized and makes you feel worthless all the time. It’s either anxiety eating away at you, or nervousness. The reason why women choose to surround themselves with women is because they demonstrate empathy, often go through the same thing, and are non-judgmental. A woman will understand the way your biology is changing, the way your professional and domestic life clash, your social obligations that take a toll, will empathize with your negative body image, talk to you about pregnancy and problems related with pregnancy. Therefore, a circle of accountability, where you are accountable to someone and they are accountable to you, can help in forming improved physical and emotional health. The littlest of things can help someone who is internally struggling. Talking about your feelings and regrets can seem like a risk and you might fear rejection, but relationships are for better or worse. Sometimes, if you are depressed, you will have to reach out to someone you trust, and if you are a support person, you might have to forcibly break down walls of isolation that keeps a woman separate from her reality.