by Nia Spencer
As a woman, I find that my mental health concerns often get brushed off or dismissed by professionals. Studies show that women are twice as likely as men to experience depression, and although hormonal changes alone cannot account for depression, women’s mental health concerns are nonetheless frequently dismissed as merely hormonal.
Dr. Tia Powell, a bioethicist and a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, states that women’s health concerns being downplayed or dismissed by their doctors is “a huge issue in medicine…Medical schools and professional guidelines are starting to address this problem, but there’s still much to be done.”
It’s important to note, as journalist Camille Noe Pagán points out, that such health disparities are not limited to women. She writes, “In the United States, if you’re not wealthy, not white and not heterosexual, you may be receiving less than optimal health care.” For this article, I’m focusing on how these issues affect women, but stay tuned for more articles on this topic within different demographics.
As an example, I’ll share my experiences with prenatal depression and postpartum depression. Between 14% and 23% of women experience prenatal depression; that’s 1 in 4 women. I’m almost positive this percentage would be higher if our feelings weren’t chalked up to hormonal changes.
I wasn’t sad at all with my first pregnancy. I was over the moon happy, although I was going to be a single, teenage mother. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second child that I experienced what so many women suffer from. I cried non-stop, and I frequently brought the sad spells up with my midwife. She of course gave me the “not every pregnancy is the same” and “your hormones are fluctuating due to the baby, it’ll pass” talk. But I was depressed, and I needed more than a pat on the back. Once my baby was born, my prenatal depression turned into postpartum depression and anxiety. Long nights of checking for the rise and fall of my newborn’s chest. Even longer days of crying and not wanting to even shower because I was afraid my son would die if he wasn’t constantly in my presence.
My doctors overlooked the root cause of my depression. My prenatal depression was triggered in part by marital issues, whereas my postpartum anxiety and depression was in part because my second child was a rainbow baby. A rainbow baby is a baby born after a loss or after fertility issues. No one asked me about this. It did not occur to any of my doctors to dive deeper into my psyche. No one took the time to understand or ask about important aspects of my life, because my mental health problems were not taken seriously.
There’s a lot that we still don’t understand about postpartum depression and anxiety. But we have got to start listening more to those who are directly affected by these issues.
Dr. Powell offers a few pieces of advice for women in such situations. If you suspect your provider isn’t taking your concerns seriously, you can ask what guidelines they are following in this situation, since guidelines tend to be objective. If you still feel dismissed, she suggests you state that you are concerned, and ask your provider to help you understand why they don’t see this as a problem. Lastly, Dr. Powell encourages women to seek help and continue seeking help until their concerns are fully addressed.
Ladies, we need to speak up for ourselves. Let them know that, no, my mental health concerns aren’t only happening because “I’m pregnant” or “because of my cycle,” etc. And maybe these feelings I’m experiencing won’t pass on their own. We often need help resolving mental health issues, but it’s hard to get the help we need when professionals don’t listen to us. Women deserve the same care men receive, without our concerns being dismissed as merely hormonal! How often have you gone to the doctor or therapist, and they overlook an important detail that could’ve helped in your therapy? Instead, let’s stand up for ourselves and demand the same care as anyone else. Let’s demand that we be listened to.