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Mental health

ch.3Mental health

Having a healthy mind and spirit is just as important as having a healthy body. When your mind and spirit are healthy, you have the emotional strength to take care of yourself and your family, to see problems and do your best to solve them, to plan for your future, and to form satisfying relationships with others. When you are mentally healthy, you can accept help from other people and still value yourself. Many disabled women develop mental health problems that make it hard
for them to face challenges, feel satisィed with their lives, or contribute to the community. Sometimes, these mental health problems are caused by a woman’s disability. But usually, they are caused by the way a community treats women with disabilities.
Remember there are no quick solutions to mental heath problems. Beware of anyone who promises this.


Challenges to mental health
Stress, discrimination, isolation, and traumatic events are some of the challenges to mental health that women with disabilities face. Of course, not everyone who has to cope with these problems will develop mental health problems. Stress, for example, is not a mental health problem, although when you can no longer cope with the challenges you face, too much stress has become a problem. Traumatic events in your life do not always cause mental health problems, but if you have no support in trying to understand them and work through them emotionally, they often do.When thinking about mental health problems, remember:
•There is no clear line between normal responses to life’s events and mental health problems.
•Most people have some of the signs described in this chapter at different times in their lives, because everyone faces problems at one time or another.
•Signs of mental health problems can vary from community to community.
Behavior that looks strange to an outsider may be a normal part of a community’s traditions or values.
If you think someone has a mental health problem
If you suspect someone has a mental health problem, get to know her better. Listen to what other people are saying about her behavior and the ways she has changed. Since mental health problems often have roots in the family or community, think about how these may contribute to the problem. But not all mental health problems have causes that can be identiィed. Sometimes we just do not know why someone develops a mental health problem.


When you face a lot of stress every day and for a long time, you may begin to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. The problem may be made worse if you have been taught not to value yourself and to neglect your own needs. Physical changes and disease caused by stress When you experience stress, your body gets ready to react quickly and fight off the stress. Some of the changes that occur are: •The heart starts beating faster. •The blood pressure goes up. •A person breathes faster. •Digestion slows down. If the stress is sudden and severe, you may feel these changes in your body. Then, once the stress is gone, your body returns to normal. But if the stress is less severe or happens slowly, you may not notice how the stress is affecting your body, even though the signs are still there. Stress that goes on for a long time can lead to the physical signs common in anxiety and depression, such as headache, intestinal problems, and lack of energy. Over time, stress can also cause illness, such as high blood pressure.

Social barriers create stress

Many of the same barriers that prevent women with disabilities from getting health care also cause stress in their daily lives. Since they face so many sources of stress, it is especially important for women with disabilities to ィnd the support they need to feel strong and conィdent in their abilities, and maintain their self-esteem.


Gender is the way a community defines what it means to be a man or a woman. In communities that do not value girls as much as boys, girls experience more stress. Your brothers may be given more education or more food. You may be criticized a lot. Your hard work may go unnoticed. A girl with a disability is much more likely to be treated this way than a girl without a disability or a boy with a disability. As you grow up, you may not believe you deserve to be treated well by your partner and family, to have health care when you are sick, or to develop your skills. When you feel this way, you may even think your lack of importance in the family and community is natural and right—when, in fact, it is unfair and unjust.


When a family is poor, it is harder for a disabled girl or woman to get the skills she needs to work. She may not get the hearing aids or crutches she needs in order to go to school. If a disabled girl or woman does not have a chance to help support the family, they may treat her like a burden. If the family has only a little food, they may decide more food should go to the family members who go out to work and help support them.

Attitudes about disability

Communities may also have lower expectations for what girls and women with disabilities can accomplish in life. Having learned they have little to hope for, women with disabilities tend to value themselves less. They often lack the self-conィdence to advocate for change in the community.

Body image

The community may judge disabled women as less worthy than other women because they do not ft that community’s image of a beautiful woman. But women with disabilities see a wide variety of bodies and behaviors around them and can appreciate these differences. They can come to see themselves as being beautiful, well-dressed, capable, and strong, even with their scars, deformities, amputations, hearing aids, unusual expressions and gestures, wheelchairs, crutches, sticks, canes, or the possibility of seizures (‘fts’) or bowel and bladder accidents in public.


Disabled girls may grow up separate from other children and not have the chance to develop friendships. They may not learn the social skills they need to build strong relationships as adults. Being alone and isolated creates stress. Having friends and being part of a community is important for good self-esteem. A teenage girl who has a disability also needs support to develop confdence about her sexuality so she can form close personal and sexual relationships

Job skills

Women with disabilities are less likely to receive training for work so they can earn money. If they have not had a chance to gain job skills, it is harder for them to support their families and themselves.