As a Hispanic woman who has had both gender and cultural expectations placed on me that made it difficult for me to get the help I needed throughout specific times in my life, I hope to encourage all women to stand in their authority and promote healing with no shame.
In support of Women’s History Month, I challenge those who have gained from mental health support to reduce stigma by sharing what those supporters have done for you. Others should feel empowered to seek support without judgment – because it has created who I am today: a successful female director and entrepreneur.
I found the gender and cultural barriers I once faced made me feel extremely lonely and misunderstood in my toughest seasons. Ignorant people who were uneducated about mental health and its depths often suggested I “be strong” and “grateful for the life I have,” but did not acknowledge or validate my truth or pain.
As a woman, it is also common to be titled a “psycho,” “crazy,” “bipolar,” “delusional,” or “out of your mind” for simply speaking your truth or being emotional, hormonal, or distressed. There may have been times that you tried to create boundaries, personal standards, or a sense of safety to protect yourself and, while doing so, you were labeled these awful things.
The labels above are often what women believe their whole life and shapes everything they do. Those labels are enough to ruin self-esteem or decrease the chances of someone speaking up or protecting themselves. It becomes a helpless cycle.
It’s important to remember there are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of a woman’s life or journey that some people will never experience. It is crucial that people are mindful of name calling, labeling, and being sexist no matter the circumstance.
Women have different pressures than men and experience hormonal imbalances and societal biases that often cause challenges and limit their potential. I make this point not to discredit the mental health challenges that men experience. Despite all the challenges some women have overcome the limitations placed on them by being courageous and speaking up. One of the benefits to being a woman is the learned behavior to express emotion, good or bad. In my opinion, this vulnerability is the reason women are resilient and more likely to seek mental health treatment than men.
As a therapist of over 10 years, I have finally seen a shift in the last three years in the way we promote mental health and suicide prevention. Please be kind to others no matter the gender, culture, identity, title, or job. Encourage those that need uplifting to seek treatment or help.
Lastly, remember the importance of not using labels to attack others and learn to effectively communicate, validate, and respect others. In time, sexism will be a thing of the past and mental health will no longer stigmatize those struggling.
About the Author: Kristal DeFeo, MS is a Behavioral Health Specialist and Life Coach in Philadelphia PA