Gender roles affect mental health, too | Recorder Headlines

Before attending a mental health workshop, Latricia Hanyard didn’t know what she was feeling could…

Gender roles affect mental health, too | Recorder Headlines

Before attending a mental health workshop, Latricia Hanyard didn’t know what she was feeling could be depression. 

Hanyard, 47, began experiencing symptoms in 2013 after her son, Dontrell, was murdered.

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“I was so lonely, but I didn’t want to be bothered with people,” Hanyard said. “I was scared all the time.”

In 2013, a group of researchers tried to solve a problem when it comes to understanding mental health for African Americans.

According to a study from Johns Hopkins University, women are twice as likely as men to experience depression. Black women, however, are half as likely as white women to seek help for their symptoms. 

Dr. Carrie Dixon, president of the Indiana Association of Black Psychologists, said there’s a historical reason for this.

Medical mistreatment against Black patients and mistrust toward health care professionals within the Black community, Dixon said, makes African Americans hesitant to pursue treatment. Beyond historical mistreatment — including testing on Black patients — Dixon said women, particularly Black women, are often disregarded when they describe their symptoms to doctors and psychologists. This could have a detrimental impact on someone’s treatment. 

“When anyone is perceived as being overreactive and are not taken seriously, they aren’t likely to return to that doctor or therapist,” Dixon said. “It’s important to validate people’s feelings, because if they feel like they aren’t, they can discontinue treatment, and that can lead to suicidal ideation or self-harm.”

According to Dixon, men and women typically express emotions differently, which can affect treatment. 

“It goes back to gendered training,” Dixon said. “Women are more likely to express their depression through crying, whereas men are taught not to cry. … But I think African Americans in general are more likely than Caucasians to keep [mental illness] to themselves.”

In other cases, like Hanyard’s, a woman may not know she is experiencing mental health issues because she’s too focused on taking care of those around her. 

“Women are under a lot of emotional pressure,” Dixon said. “… If you’re trying to take care of everybody else’s emotional needs, at some point, you neglect your own.”

Historically, women have been caregivers, putting the physical and emotional needs of their loved ones ahead of their own. Dixon said this practice can lead to high rates of depression and other mental health problems, and many women feel they can handle their problems by themselves.

Despite her symptoms, Hanyard didn’t believe anything was wrong because she didn’t feel suicidal. After participating in a workshop hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Greater Indianapolis, Hanyard realized she wasn’t alone in her feelings. 

During the workshop, she heard from people who experienced depression as a result of trauma, and learned coping mechanisms to help her manage her own symptoms. 

“Before [the workshop], I thought I could take the situation in my own hands,” Hanyard said. “But now, it’s always good to have someone by your side.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.