Former feminist icon Germaine Greer is claiming that rape is non-traumatising. As a woman, a lot of the negative experiences you go through are twisted to be shown as your fault, writes Jennifer Richards. 

Have you ever been called crazy? Emotional? Or told that what you really need to do is think more positively? These were all things said to me, and even that I said to myself, when I suffered with OCD and depression. Gender stereotypes meant my mental illness was viewed with scepticism, and what I was experiencing was seen as simply something all women go through, particularly at that ‘time of the month’ – which, if this wasn’t already bad enough, also manages to belittles the huge effect PMS can have on someone’s life.

"Not only does disbelief exacerbate the mental health problems women experience, but it also means the response we have to women with mental health conditions isn’t nuanced in the way it really needs to be."

As a woman, a lot of the negative experiences you go through are twisted to be shown as your fault. Whether that’s leading someone on with a short skirt, or not raising your voice loud enough in meetings, as a society, we have a culture that always blames women, which ultimately just forces us into silence. Why would we come forward and seek help for our mental health conditions, when we’re just going to be told it’s our fault we’re going through this in the first place?

So not only does this disbelief exacerbate the mental health problems women experience, but it also means the response we have to women with mental health conditions isn’t nuanced in the way it really needs to be. Women are instead boxed in and labelled as hysterical, when what should happen is someone taking a step back and looking at all the different factors that have led to a woman’s mental health condition and then offering a cross-sector approach to help improve a woman’s situation.

Ethnicity, sexuality, homelessness, and domestic abuse are just some of the factors that affect a woman’s mental health, and what we really need is a more gender-specific approach when it comes to the mental health system. This will help remove the unhealthy language that currently exists around women’s mental health and will make it easier for us to feel like we can speak out and seek help.

That’s why at women’s mental health charity Wish, we’ve created the Women’s Mental Health Network. Not only is this network a campaigning platform to give women with mental health needs a voice, but the basis of it is a partnership of voluntary organisations working across sectors to help improve a woman’s experience of using statutory services in a range of settings, such as hospitals, prisons, drugs and alcohol.

Ultimately this Network is about seeing women as more than two dimensional beings, which we have been doing for so long. Ironically it’s all the language centred around a women’s brain being ‘too complex’ that feeds into this dismissal of a woman’s experience by just applying a catch-all definition of ‘hysteria’ that reduces women to paper, wafer-thin, unexplainable characters.

I isolated and blamed myself

Gender stereotypes both stopped my OCD and depression from being taken seriously, and also, as I mentioned above, just made me feel like it was my fault. How could I let this happen to me? Why was I turning the taps on and off 20 times when I know that’s wrong? Why wasn’t I getting out of bed when I had school? I isolated and blamed myself because I didn’t want to be viewed as the crazy girl. I wanted to be the cool girl. The one who could kick back with the lads and tell hilarious jokes and would never get upset about anything. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve really learnt that my feelings and my mental health are valid. And they’re also things that shouldn’t be boxed in. Of course women are complex. Men are too. We’ve barely touched the surface when it comes to truly understanding the brain. But if we’re going to learn to understand it better we need to listen to the women who are experiencing mental health problems.

I’d love for you to join Wish for our Turn Up The Volume Event at Cecil Sharp House in Camden on the 8th of June. This is our live music, poetry and comedy night that’s launching and fundraising for our Women’s Mental Health Network, with the emphasis being on listening to, rather than dismissing, female voices.

I hope you’ll Turn Up The Volume with us!

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