Mental Health

Mental Health Matters: Honoring Women’s Advocacy in the Mental Health Field

Two women having a conversation about mental health.

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Women are more likely to be impacted by mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and more — at rates estimated to be 2 to 3 times higher than experienced by their male counterparts. Many factors are at play, such as societal expectations and pressures, biological reasons influenced by hormones and life changes, and long-embedded stereotypes about gender roles that still shape how we think about and respond to women’s mental health. Whether we respond with judgment — only perpetuating the stigma surrounding mental illness — or with compassion to stop the stigma is crucial.

Woman to Woman

It often takes a woman to understand the plight of another to apply the knowledge and offer the solid support necessary to heal. And this Women’s History Month, we’re paying homage to some of the extraordinary women who have blazed the trail and those who continue to enhance the field of mental health through their brilliance, hard work and dedication. They influence and change the way that clinicians work, elevate public perception of mental health, and improve the lives of many through their perseverance. Keep reading to learn more.

Nellie Bly

Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, was an American journalist. She worked undercover to report on the harsh living conditions in a women’s mental institution from within, exposing the brutality and neglect with which the women there were treated. She did this by successfully admitting herself as a patient to the asylum. Her book based on the experience, Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a stir and prompted the asylum to implement changes.

Dorothea Dix

During Dorothea Dix’s time in the mid-19th century, life as a patient in a mental hospital was grim. People with mental conditions were kept with violent criminals in terrible living conditions with little to no sanitation or protection from the elements. They were abused and mistreated at the whims of their wardens. Dix took this issue to the Massachusetts legislature. Her narratives and calls for reform were astonishing, and funds were set aside for the reform of the state mental hospital as a result. She accomplished the same in Rhode Island and New York, radically changing the approach to mental health treatment in America.

Anna Freud

Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund, was a successful psychologist in her own right. She was one of the foremost practitioners in child psychology, and she built on her father’s work and was the first to introduce the concept of defense mechanisms into the field of psychology.

Contemporary Female Mental Health Advocates

Just as the plight of women has historically been challenging, women continue to rise to the challenge and lift each other up. Just a few of the talented contemporary women working to end the stigma of mental illness include:

  • Gymnast Simone Biles: Biles famously chose to withdraw from an important competition citing mental health issues —bringing awareness to mental health while also modeling the importance of self-care.
  • Actress Kristen Bell: A successful actress known for her humor, Bell struggles with anxiety and depression in her personal life and openly speaks and writes about it.
  • Author Brené Brown: A researcher and storyteller, Brené Brown helped destigmatize mental illness through her TED talk and many books on vulnerability, shame, empathy and courage.
  • Actress and singer Hayden Panettiere: Hayden helped destigmatize mental health by being the unofficial spokeswoman for postpartum depression.
  • Singer Demi Lovato: Lovato helped destigmatize mental health by being a leader of Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health, an initiative “encouraging people across America to use their voice in support of mental health.”

The Ongoing Journey

Women’s work in the mental health field is far from over and the progression toward health equity continues. Women still face health disparities and challenges when it comes to accessing mental health care and having their concerns taken seriously — often causing them to avoid seeking help, delaying needed treatment for common but hard-to-talk-about conditions and circumstances that impact women, their outlook and their safety, like postpartum depression, hormone imbalances, domestic violence and many more.

You’re Not Alone

Know you’re never alone. These conditions are experienced by many just like you. They can be devastating to your daily functioning and how you feel in body, mind and spirit — yet they are treatable and there is help available to you. Always ask for help when you need it, and never hesitate to call 911 or head to your nearest emergency room if you think you’re facing a mental health emergency.

You matter. Reach out for compassionate care from our expert behavioral specialists who see and treat the whole you.

Mental Health Resources for Women

You can also find support through the following organizations:

If you need immediate help, connect with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline for free and confidential support 24/7. Simply dial or text 988.

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