Wednesday, May 17, 2006

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

And Paula Caplan brings up a good point: women typically are over-diagnosed with mental health issues and/or suffer detrimental effects for being labeled psychiatrically (i.e. losing her job and/or kids). This is something history keeps repeating as women way back in the day were more likely to be committed to an asylum than men were, especially if she were deemed a heretic or witch.

In The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman tracks her ascension into madness. After giving birth, a male doctor recommended that she and her husband move to the country, hoping the air would cure whatever ailed her. She was constantly being told what she could and could not do, she wasn't allowed to write because supposedly it made her go bonkers; she wasn't allowed to be a whole person and her already fragile sanity suffered because of it.

Hell, Betty Freidan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, shed light onto "a problem with no name." (And if you watch Desperate Housewives, Bre is having a nervous breakdown from all the denial and the "I'm Fines".)

I believe Andrea Yates killed her 5 children because her husband didn't take her seriously. Mental illness is also something those on the outside cannot see so it's easier to deny. It's sad that it took the death of her 5 children to finally get the attention of the one man who is supposed to support her no matter what.

But I digress.

The above may seem as being antithesis to my original point, but I don't think so. I believe that, because women are so often dismissed as being irrational or overreacting, we aren't taken seriously even when a diagnosis of mental illness is made.

Of course, this can go both ways hence leading to the over-diagnosis of women, too.

Meaning that because women are so often dismissed as over-emotional, it's all too easy to shove a prescription in their hand and tell them whatever is wrong will go away with a few pills a day. Which is the exact point Caplan gets at:

Even women who never enter a therapist's office run the risk of being branded by family or friends with one type of demeaning non-psychiatric label or another, such as "cold, bitchy and rejecting" or "overemotional, overly sensitive and needy," so that even an average woman's emotions and behavior look pretty terrible compared to those of an average man. It should not be surprising, then, that the psychiatric field is riddled with diagnoses that are used to demean and pathologize women.
Do you ever hear a man being told he's overreacting to that woman who just made a sexist comment to him? How about when a guy gets felt up? Or groped in a concert crowd even. How about when a man brings allegations of sexual harassment against a female employee/r?

What is most interesting to me still is "Premenstrual Mental Disorder" or PMDD. Europe's version of our FDA does not recognize PMDD as an actual diagnosis so refused to sell Sarafem (repackaged Prozac) for what appears to be a made-up condition. (One thought up by 2 guys nonetheless.)

Hordes of women who watched Lilly's commercials that showed angry women who "had PMDD" and "needed" Sarafem rushed to their doctors, hoping that this pill would help them get rid of their "unfeminine" anger. The European Union's drug regulator--the Committee for Proprietary Medicinal Products--found that PMDD was not a well-established entity and forced Lilly to tell health professionals to stop prescribing Prozac for that "condition." However, Lilly took no such steps in the United States.
For some women PMDD might truly be something real, but I think it walks a thin line between needing a psychiatric diagnosis and just plain 'ol being how the woman's body copes with her menstrual cycles.