International Women's Day - Women's Mental Health

Author : Claire O'Farrell

Every year on March 8th the world celebrates International Women’s Day. The day is a celebration of women’s achievements, marking the continued strive for gender inclusion and equality. Ireland is number 8 in the top 10 countries in the world for gender equality, but significant stigma still exists around mental health.

Many of us are aware that men are more likely to die by suicide than women. However, the World Health Organisation shows that the prevalence of many major mental health difficulties, is higher amongst women.

Closer to home, The Department of Health’s Healthy Ireland surveys, found that women in Ireland have lower levels of positive mental health compared to men. The National Women’s Council of Ireland identified the following factors affecting women’s mental health; mental health services, race, isolation, stress, mothering & caring, gender, body image, ethnicity, age, trauma, and social class.

We all know the saying ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. Women are the primary caregivers in Ireland, and many reported that their caring responsibilities increased during the pandemic. Family responsibilities can often be a significant factor in whether women seek mental health support. Balancing work, family, and health can be a major challenge for all of us.

The good news is that simple daily habits can help to protect our mental health. This can look like taking care physically, by eating a healthy balanced diet, getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and reducing alcohol and nicotine. It can also be about looking after ourselves in other ways, by taking time to relax, spending time with friends and family, and making time for things that we enjoy.

As restrictions lift and our calendars begin to fill up again, remember to prioritise yourself. Get comfortable with saying no when you just don’t have the energy. Ensure that you do things you enjoy regularly; whether it’s going for a walk, reading, sport, painting, dancing, or gardening. Hobbies are a great way to reduce stress, keep us focused on the present moment, and often have an added social benefit.

Physical symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, sickness, or aches & pains that we wouldn’t usually experience, can be signs of languishing mental health. Feelings of overwhelm, feeling helpless, or feeling unable to cope are some other indicators. Speaking to a trusted friend or loved one about what you are experiencing can support your mental health in the short term. However, if you are experiencing a mental health difficulty or prolonged feelings of overwhelm, consider speaking to a counsellor, your GP, or your workplace EAP. Remember that seeking support is a sign of strength.

This International Women’s Day, make the time to check in with yourself and the women in your life.  Continue to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health by having conversations with your family, colleagues, and friends.

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