Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
L-R: Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III (Photo: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

MIND

Stop calling me a “drama queen”

Women’s mental ill-health is still being reduced to nothing more than “hysterical drama”. It’s dangerous and it has to stop, says Natasha Devon MBE

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By Natasha Devon on

For seven years during my late teens and early twenties, I had a serious eating disorder. Diagnostic criteria aren’t everything, but a specialist clinic gave my disorder a score of 18 on a possible severity scare of 20. By the end, I was barely functioning professionally, physically or socially. A couple of years into my recovery, I confided in a friend. “All women go through a little bulimic phase,” she said. When I tried to impress upon her that it was more than that, she told me to stop being a “drama queen”.

Accusations of exaggeration and attention-seeking are rife within mental-health conversations and they are most often directed at women. Last week, my campaign, the Mental Health Media Charter, asked our social-media community where mental-health difficulties and misogyny intersect. We were flooded with responses from women who had been told that their mental illness was simply a facet of womanhood they weren’t dealing with particularly well.

One respondent had her anxiety disorder dismissed as “just a bit of PMT” by a former partner. This is infuriating not only from the point of view of misdiagnosis, but also because there is evidence to show hormonal fluctuations can make symptoms of mental illness more severe, particularly during adolescence, pregnancy and menopause.

In 2016, in response to a government-commissioned study that revealed that one in four young women were experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine wrote that asking a teenage girl if she’s depressed is “like asking a dog if it wants to go for a walk”. While her casual dismissal of what president of the Labour Campaign for Mental Health, Luciana Berger, called a “crisis” was shocking, her views are far from unusual.

So, why the rush to silence female mental-health concerns? One answer is prevalence. Women are twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of anxiety or depression than men, which has led commentators to assume either that women suffer disproportionately or that psychological distress is part of the female experience.

While men are considered ‘brave’ for sharing intimate emotional battles, women are perceived as ‘whinging’

What these people fail to recognise, however, is that there are equivalent patterns in male mental-health statistics. Men are three times more likely to need to seek help for drug and alcohol addiction and, as is widely publicised, far more likely to die by suicide – a man in the UK ends his own life every two hours.

Mental distress is part of life’s tapestry, but while women are more likely to talk about it and seek medical advice, men are more likely to respond by self-medicating. Rightly, several campaigns and charities have focused their attentions on encouraging men to talk, but it seems that women are being punished for doing exactly that.

The second answer is good old-fashioned misogyny. While men are considered “brave” for sharing intimate emotional battles, women are perceived as “whinging”. Is it any wonder, then, that young women are self-harming in record numbers, perhaps a desperate attempt to manifest physically a pain which isn’t properly acknowledged when they express it in words?

We’re not “drama queens”, we’re not “crazy” ex-girlfriends and we’re not “hysterical”. Women suffering from poor mental health deserve better than those reductive, silencing labels. We deserve to be taken seriously.

@_NatashaDevon

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L-R: Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III (Photo: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)
Tagged in:
Mental Health
Sexism
Anxiety

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