It is a surprise that in 2019, it still needs to be said out loud that yes, mental health is important. Though improved mental health is said to have its own positive side-benefits such as increased productivity in the workplace or good levels of social cohesiveness; it is significant for its own sake. From a philosophical perspective, every person deserves to be happy and empowered. Each individual deserves to have a healthy self-image and self-esteem, on the basis of which, they can lead a life of dignity and strive to fulfill their potential.
I realize that the above seems like an idyllic reality and an idealistic concept, and that’s because it probably is, especially if you are born as a girl child in India.
The mental health of women in India presents a bleak scenario. India contributes a large amount to the world suicide death rate among women. The global women suicide rate contribution of India increased to 36.6 percent in 2016, as opposed to 25.3 percent in 1990. Also, biologically speaking, women are two times more likely to suffer from unipolar depression as compared to men. Stress causing events such as menstruation, childbirth and caregiving for children and the elderly; also adversely affect women’s peace of mind.
It cannot be denied that India has made some meaningful progress in terms of gender equality in recent years. Women, especially in urban areas are empowered and financially independent. Healthcare and legal facilities for women have also improved. However, the clear and prevalent desire for a male child is strongly highlighted by data from Our World in Data.
The standard sex ratio approximates 105 boys born for every 100 girls worldwide. However, the data tells another story in the case of India. In India, when the first child born is a boy, the standard ratio is maintained. However, if the first born is a girl child, there is a trend among parents to continue having children until they give birth to a boy.
There are many reasons for this discrimination, some stemming from philosophies shared in scriptures and religious texts. One is the belief that only a son can do the last rites of parents, which will ensure that their souls are at peace. Another is the entrenched notion that if a woman is married, she cannot support her parents in their old age. Due to various socio-economic reasons, as well as extreme poverty, a significant number of parents in India think of their children from a utilitarian perspective rather than a humanitarian one. They think of their sons as investments, who will take care of them in their old age. And they think of their daughters as burdens or liabilities to be married off. There is a belief that marrying your daughter off, and performing the rite of Kanyadaan (or donating your daughter to ‘another’ family) is supposed to bring spiritual well-being to her parents. Of course, patriarchy and the systemic oppression of women form the basis of all the aforementioned ‘traditions.’ This desire for power is evident among many women too, who become beneficiaries of the patriarchal system by dint of wholeheartedly participating in it.
‘Tradition is the corpse of Wisdom’
Traditions are not meant to last forever, and what may have been suitable for one era may not be suitable for another. Maybe it’s time to analyze the morality of traditions, which have resulted in the creation of highly-skewed gender norms in society that only bring inequality and unhappiness to its women.
How Does Growing Up Unwanted Impact an Indian Girl’s Mental Health?
There are certain mental health stressors and traumas that come with being born an ‘undesired’ girl child in India, that impact girls and women in various negative ways all throughout their lives. These girls are born into families that make their preference for a male child clear in blunt ways. Such micro-aggressions against girls on a daily basis can have the following negative impacts on their mental health:
They grow up to believe that they are inferior to men, due to indoctrination and brainwashing from childhood
Gender is an important part of a person’s identity. And when a girl-child is discriminated on the basis of such a crucial ingredient of her identity; that teaches a person they are subservient and subordinate to the male gender, right from the beginning.
Are discouraged and suppressed from achieving their full potential
When you grow up knowing that no matter how well you do, either academically or in extra-curricular fields, that you won’t get love, support, and encouragement, you lose motivation and the pleasures of sharing the little joys and accomplishments with your parents and family members.
Are made to feel like a burden, on whose marriage money needs to be spent
The vicious circle of dowry system doesn’t allow the notion of a girl child being ‘liabilities’ to die off.
Are devoid of unconditional love and affection from their parents
It is one of the most basic needs of a child, to be given unconditional love and affection by their parents. The human right to grow up in an emotionally safe and non-abusive environment is critical to a healthy self-image.
Can lead to acting out and other behaviors detrimental for mental health
Consistently feeling unloved and unwanted result in a lot of reactionary behaviours, especially in teen years when you feel more compelled to meet your needs in other ways. Substance abuse, risky activities, dropping out of school etc. are some of the ways in which teenage girls may try to cope.
Can lead to acceptance of abusive relationships and bad treatment by spouses and significant others
It isn’t uncommon for women who come from ‘unloving’ families to get into abusive romantic relationships and unfulfilling friendships. A history of being mis-treated by parents leads to a greater risk of girls accepting similar kind of treatment from their partners and spouses in the future. This leads to a cycle of un-fulfilling and damaging relationships, which further has a huge impact on their mental well-being.
Making Mental Health a Priority is Extremely Important
It doesn’t need to be underlined that breaking this intergenerational cycle of toxic tradition and regressive norms is up to us. It is not easy but if you are a woman who believes that she suffers from low-self esteem or any other form of trauma due to childhood discrimination, it is highly recommended that you seek external help to cope and resolve your mental health issues. There are so many different tools and modalities out there that can help a person get back on track, and empower them to lead a happier life, full of self-love and self-acceptance.
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