Cry If You Want To: The Sad Truth About Women and Depression
In my grad school TV comedy writing class, there was an old joke when it came to developing your characters: All men are stupid and all women are crazy. Aside from being a horrible generalization, and probably responsible for the (not at all) funny fat husband/shrew wife trope in so many sitcoms, it’s also a good example of how society treats women’s mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Women are crazy, right?
It’s so hilarious how overly emotional we are. When we get our periods, we either turn into rage monsters or weepy messes that can’t sit through a soap commercial without bursting into hysterical sobbing. Women’s emotions are either a joke or a nuisance.
As a woman who has suffered from “being emotional” since I was in elementary school, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told to calm down or stop crying. Somewhere around age seventeen, I was officially diagnosed with a depression and anxiety disorder. Before that though, people just called me “sensitive,” as in, “Stop crying, Amanda, you’re too sensitive.” So not only was I depressed, but I was also made to feel ashamed and irrational for feeling so sad all the time. I taught myself to cry silently in my bedroom, lest I bother anyone with My Emotions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, I’m not alone.
Approximately twelve million women experience some form of depression each year, twice as many as men. Women are also more likely to suffer from anxiety.
Biological factors account for some of that. Women’s bodies go through drastic hormonal changes. Menstruation, pregnancy, and eventually menopause, are all things that can change the hormones in your body and contribute to developing various forms of depression. But even without these factors, women have plenty of reasons to feel depressed or anxious.
We get paid less than men, no matter how much or how hard we work.
Whatever life path we take, we’re judged for it. Work full time, have no kids, you’re a heartless career bitch. Get married, stay at home, you’re anti-feminist and have no ambition. Get married, have kids, AND try to work? You’re neglecting your kids and you’re terrible at your job because you can’t focus your full energy on work.
We live in a world where magazines photoshop even the most exquisite models. Society judges and picks apart women’s appearances constantly. Did you know twenty million women in the United States have had an eating disorder at some point in their life? I can raise my hand for that one too.
So what came first? Women being depressed, or women being depressed because they’re not allowed to express their depressed feelings?
I don’t know that it really matters. What matters is that we stop this cycle of abuse, not just for women, but for any person who suffers from mental disorders. We need to make mental health issues neither taboo nor a joke. We need to support women at every stage of her life, whatever the choices she makes. Instead of telling someone to calm down or to stop crying, ask them what’s wrong, and how can you help. What does this help look like? For some, it’s encouragement to see a psychiatrist or therapist, and take appropriate medication without fear of social stigma. For other women, it’s simply allowing them a safe space in the world without judgment or criticism.
Depression is not weakness!
Talking openly about your problems and feelings is definitely not weakness. Mental health is so important and it takes a very brave person to lay themselves bare for others, to acknowledge their pain and take steps to change it. Depression is hard. It’s painful. And the people who live with it are incredibly strong.
Women are incredibly strong. We continue to thrive and resist, even with so much stacked against us. But it’s okay to be vulnerable, too. It’s okay to feel sad and scared and to ask for help. It’s the healthy thing to do, and you deserve to be healthy.
These days, I cry all the time. Openly. In my car. In the middle of crowded shopping malls. Occasionally, I cry at work, thanks to various asshole co-workers. But I don’t feel the shame anymore. Feelings are human nature.