Wednesday 16 October 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'How women's mental and physical health are being crushed in this patriarchal world'

Breaking us: There’s an intense external pressure on women to be the best mam, the best wife, the best career woman we can be
Breaking us: There’s an intense external pressure on women to be the best mam, the best wife, the best career woman we can be
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

The patriarchy is making us sick, from discrimination in the workplace to those disgusting wolf whistles on the streets. Those common expressions of misogyny seem to be seriously affecting our mental health. Young women are the most at-risk for poor mental health and shockingly, young Irish women have the highest levels of depression in Europe.

Researchers from Eurofound - the EU agency for the improvement of living and working conditions - say that nearly 17pc of Irish women aged 15-24 are at risk of developing symptoms of depression, more than twice the number of young Irish men at risk and the highest rate in Europe. Young women aged 15-24 in the majority of EU states were found to be more likely to suffer depression than their male peers.

The report found that young women were more likely to handle upsetting events internally, which can lead to self-harm and eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. It also reported that stresses from school, expectations from parents and peer and societal pressures make the transition into adulthood challenging with long-lasting impacts.

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It isn't the first time that a report has warned of the gender gap in mental health. A survey conducted across Ireland in 2016 suggested that levels of psychological stress were higher among women, with more women and girls of all ages displaying more negative mental health symptoms.

Social media is part of the story. A 2017 report by the UK's Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) surveyed nearly 1,500 people aged 14 to 24 about how social networking sites and apps affect their mental health and found that Instagram has the "most detrimental" effect on young people (followed by Snapchat and Facebook).

The photo-filtering feature is one of the main culprits, with young women saying it causes them to feel bad about their own lives, negatively influencing their body image, and, of course, giving us a perpetual sense of Fomo.

With every headline about female mental health comes the same assumption: we are spending too much time on social media and it's making us unwell. But before you ditch your smartphone for a carrier pigeon, remember the structural and societal problems young women face.

The WHO refers to the "gender-specific risk factors" that are at play when it comes to mental wellness. Gender-based violence, income inequality, low social status, and sexual violence are factors that more often affect women more than men, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rates being considerably higher too.

According to recent statistics from WIN International, 32pc of Irish women between the ages of 18 and 34 say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment within the previous 12 months. Young Irish women live with near constant threat of misogyny and sexual violence, from being upskirted at parades to being murdered in our homes, and then have our underwear dissected in a courtroom when we ask for justice.

Presenting in-depth case studies of support services in five member states, this new Eurofound report found significant spikes in child and youth homelessness in several countries since the crisis - including Ireland. In Ireland, around one in three registered homeless is a child. Socioeconomic status has a strong impact on whether young people are at risk of depression. Those living in households in the lowest income quartile are more likely to be at risk.

In a world where men have disproportionate access to power (the patriarchy again), women and girls face the result of this by being paid less and promoted less. All young Irish people face a tricky jobs market and high rents but the most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office show that women were paid 14pc less than men in Ireland in 2014, based on gross hourly earnings. That marked a widening from 12pc recorded two years earlier.

According to a survey from the 30pc Club and DCU, women hold 40pc of positions at the lowest level of management surveyed, with this proportion decreasing at each level of seniority, falling to 17pc of CEO positions.

Lone parents in Ireland - again mostly women - have among the worst living standards in Europe, with one in five surviving below the poverty line.

A young woman's life used to be studded with milestones like getting married, having babies but a catastrophic housing crisis has scattered most of them beyond reach. The point of women's lib was to be able to have a choice other than marrying young and pushing out a bunch of kids, but now young women don't have that choice. If we do get to settle down, there's an intense external pressure to be the best mam, the best wife, the best career woman we can be, even when we know it's hurting us, breaking us, wearing us down.

Unless young women can afford to go private with their mental health problem, most find themselves waiting months and years for referrals to underfunded mental health services. Is it any wonder young women are feeling the strain?

The patriarchy is destroying our mental and physical health, so why are we still sitting around wondering what could possibly be the cause? Young women's mood is likely more dependent on our Government's actions - not on Mark Zuckerberg. We owe it to the next generation to up our tepid commitment to gender equality.

Irish Independent

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