Women and mental health: some help, please

July 30, 2006

I’ve been having a gander at Stroppyblog, and posted some stuff about mental health, to which Louise, the co-author, has replied in a new post. As some of you may know, I take an active interest in things related to benefits, and IB, and JSA.

I posted this over there, but I’m cross posting it here, too, in the hope someone can help me out.

I remember having a heated argument with a Scots nationalist (a proper hardcore one at that) around such questions of benefits, IB in particular. Sorry for the rant below but I’ve been giving it a think.

To me, it boils down to a question of agency. Who decides? Is it your doctor? Or the person who works down the Job Centre? No offence to people who work at JobCentres – it must be one of the toughest jobs going – but they are not qualified to make medical judgements about people, especially when they’re constantly told to get JSA and IB numbers down to make sure the government looks good. Usually this involves shoving people into low paid jobs which are totally unsuitable, and to hell with that person’s mental health. There are quotas, damnit!

Again, I find myself asking: who benefits? It’s certainly not those people affected by mental health issues. Maybe we’ve finally accepted that stress is a legitimate condition, but I think we’re (when I say we, I mean wider society) are affected by the old Victorian taboos surrounding mental heath, and the image of all people with mental health issues either being locked up in a padded cell or being driven around on a Sunshine Coach. It’s this sort of prejudice which still haunts – like a spectre – over current attitudes to mental health, and a rare few positive representations in happy-go-lucky TV films won’t change that.

We are still told to think, from my experience anyway, that people with mental health issues are ‘modern day lepers’. Which is why I think we see such authoritarian, dogmatic and Victorian attitudes towards it in such legislation. Either there is nothing wrong with you, or it’s off to the asylum. There is only black or white. No middle ground.

I remember leading SWPer Colin Barker telling me an unusual story about the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland. He told me that those working in mental health institutions reported that when Solidarity was on the retreat, the institutions were full of working class people, but when Solidarity was on the rise, they would check themselves out, and ended up being replaced by the Stalinist bureaucrats. I can’t verify the vaildity of that story, but it’s interesting to note the class context.

What I’d like to know is how working class women are treated in the mental health system, an overall picture of the experience. I’d put money on it being a substantially worse experience, but I was wondering if there is any hard evidence for it. And for people of ethnic minorities, too. But especially women.


5 Responses to “Women and mental health: some help, please”

  1. Louise Says:


    Have a look at MIND… mind.org.uk there are stats and factsheets and so on.

    re: women
    A good bk to read is Jane Ussher’s Misogyny or mental illness?
    Female Malady – Elaine Showalter

    There are Black and Irish mental health user orgs. if you want i can give you the details.

  2. Louise Says:

    Hey Kit,

    Stats from MIND as a starting point. Southall Black Sisters have been active in highlighting racism and sexism in the mental health system.

    Also Angela Davis and Kum-Kum Bhavnai have written about gender and race in the prison and the mental health system in the States.

    From MIND




  3. stroppybird Says:

    As Louise says there is much on women and black people re treatment in the MH system.

    Also LGBT people. But as well as the issues with women (more likely to self harm ) when it comes to suicide the highest group is young men .

    I will see if I can find any links.

  4. dannyhaszard Says:

    Well said,i applaud your blog, mental health consumers are the least capable of self advocacy,my doctors made me take zyprexa for 4 years which was ineffective for my symptoms.I now have a victims support page against Eli Lilly for it’s Zyprexa product causing my diabetes.–Daniel Haszard http://www.zyprexa-victims.com

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