International Women’s Day: Do Any Of These Women Share Your Mental Health Experience?

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, this years #IWD2019 #BalanceForBetter campaign celebrates the achievement and advancement of women.

As a global collective, we recognize the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. However, I believe we should also remember that behind each of these achievements, there is also a kickass amazing woman with human emotions, drive and mental health.

Photo by Mentatdgt on Pexels

IWD is here to remind us to celebrate the women in our lives. We all know a woman who has inspired us — actually let’s make that a long list of women who never fail to astound us with their wisdom, creativity, words and all-round magic.

So I’m just going to throw this out there: Why do some women give themselves a hard time? Why do we allow so much to build up on our plates? Why do we sometimes feel guilty or that we are failures if we admit we need support?

Mental health issues affect both genders equally, yet certain problems are more common in women than men.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that mental health is affiliated with gender since it determines “the differential power and control men and women have over the socioeconomic determinants of their mental health and lives, their social position, status and treatment in society and their susceptibility and exposure to specific mental health risks.”

Research has shown that women are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety as men.

“There are also certain types of depression that are unique to women. Some women may experience symptoms of mental disorders at times of hormone change, such as perinatal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression.”

We’re never alone in our experience

Just like the millions of people who struggle with mental health challenges, some of our favourite women in the public eye have been vocal about their struggles. The irony is that in Canada, 1 in 5 of us will experience a mental health illness, leaving us feeling isolated. Yet, despite many of us sharing this difficult mental health experience, we choose to keep it close to our chest.

Here, I round up some famous yet familiar voices and words to inspire us all!

Gloria Steinem
“I myself cried when I got angry, then became unable to explain why I was angry in the first place. Later I would discover this was endemic among female human beings. Anger is supposed to be ‘unfeminine’, so we suppress it — until it overflows. I could see that not speaking up made my mother feel worse. This was my first hint of the truism that depression is anger turned inward; thus women are twice as likely to be depressed.” Shared with the Telegraph

JK Rowling

“I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never. What’s to be ashamed of? I went through a really rough time and I am quite proud that I got out of that.”

Michelle Williams
“When I disclosed it to our manager at the time, bless his heart, he was like, ‘Y’all just signed a multimillion-dollar deal, and you’re about to go on tour. What do you have to be depressed about?’ So I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I’m just tired.” Michelle shared during a Destiny’s Child appearance on CBS’s The Talk

Lena Dunham
“Promised myself I would not let exercise be the first thing to go by the wayside when I got busy with Girls Season 5 and here is why: it has helped me with my anxiety in ways I’ve never dreamed possible,” Lena wrote on her Instagram post. “To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it’s mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen. I’m glad I did. It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.”

Ellen DeGeneres
“When I walked out of the studio after five years of working so hard, knowing I had been treated so disrespectfully for no other reason than I was gay, I just went into this deep, deep depression. It’s so corny, but it’s true. You have no idea where the darkest times of your life might end, so you have to just keep going,” Ellen explained.

Cara Delevingne
“I was so ashamed of how I felt because I had such a privileged upbringing, I’m very lucky. But I had depression. I had moments where I didn’t want to carry on living,” Cara shared on This Morning. “But then the guilt of feeling that way and not being able to tell anyone because I shouldn’t feel that way just left me feeling blame and guilt.”

Photos via Instagram @_j.k.rowling_ @michellewilliams @gloriastrinem @caradelevingne @theellenshow @lenadunham

“I have anxiety attacks, constant panicking on stage. My heart feels like it’s going to explode because I never feel like I’m going to deliver, ever.”
“I can slip in and out of [depression] quite easily,”
Adele told Vanity Fair. “I had really bad postpartum depression after I had my son, and it frightened me,” she said. “I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I was very reluctant…Four of my friends felt the same way I did, and everyone was too embarrassed to talk about it.”

Lady Gaga

“When my career took off, I don’t remember anything at all. It’s like I’m traumatized. I needed time to recalibrate my soul,” Lady Gaga explained in an interview. “I definitely look after my well-being…I openly admit to having battled depression and anxiety and I think a lot of people do. I think it’s better when we all say: ‘Cheers!’ and ‘fess up to it.’”

Gisele Bündchen
“Sometimes we feel alone, as if there is no way out, but that is not true. My panic attacks were difficult, and I sought help from my family, specialists, teachers, and friends. Asking for help is never a sign of failure but a sign of strength because your life is worth saving.” Lessons: My Path To A Meaningful Life

Olivia Munn
“I have lived with anxiety and sporadic bouts of depression for most of my adult life. [Ten] years ago I tackled it, learned to fully understand it and haven’t felt the dark depths of depression in about a decade. But before that, thoughts of suicide crossed my mind more than a few times.” Instagram

Emma Stone
“The first time I had a panic attack I was sitting in my friend’s house, and I thought the house was burning down. I called my mom and she brought me home, and for the next three years it just would not stop,” Emma Stone told the Wall Street Journal.

Photos via Instagram @ladygaga @adele @emmastonepictures @oliviamunn @gisele

Gwyneth Paltrow
“I felt like a zombie. I couldn’t access my heart. I couldn’t access my emotions. I couldn’t connect,” she told Good Housekeeping. “I thought postpartum depression meant you were sobbing every single day and incapable of looking after a child,” Gwyneth explains. “But there are different shades of it and depths of it, which is why I think it’s so important for women to talk about it. It was a trying time. I felt like a failure.”

Brooke Shields
“If you think you might be suffering from any kind of postpartum mood disorder, or are aware of some preexisting condition in your life that could lead to it, DO NOT WASTE TIME! Get help right away… Don’t be ashamed and don’t disregard what you are feeling. It is better to be proactive. Postpartum depression is extremely treatable, and there are many ways to cope with and get through it. It is important to get educated and talk about how you are feeling. It rarely passes alone or without causing damage… And remember: postpartum depression is beyond your control.”

Chrissy Teigen
“I also just didn’t think it could happen to me. I have a great life. I have all the help I could need: John, my mother (who lives with us), a nanny. But postpartum does not discriminate,” Chrissy wrote in an essay for Glamour. “I couldn’t control it. And that’s part of the reason it took me so long to speak up: I felt selfish, icky, and weird saying aloud that I’m struggling. Sometimes I still do.”

Alanis Morisette
[Postpartum depression] “The stigma remains in a really big way,” Morissette told People magazine. “There’s this version of eye contact that I have with women who have been through PPD where it’s this silent, ‘Oh my God, I love you. I’m so sorry. I just know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and try not to beat myself up,”

Photos via Instagram @brookeshields @gwynethpaltrow @alanis

“It was beginning to get fuzzy — I couldn’t even tell which day or which city I was at” she told The Sun “I would sit there at ceremonies and they would give me an award and I was just thinking about the next performance. My mother was very persistent and she kept saying that I had to take care of my mental health.”

Kristin Bell
“When you try to keep things hidden, they fester and ultimately end up revealing themselves in a far more destructive way than if you approach them with honesty. I didn’t speak publicly about my struggles with mental health for the first 15 years of my career. But now I’m at a point where I don’t believe anything should be taboo.” Time

Demi Lovato
“I think it’s important that people no longer look at mental illness as something taboo to talk about,” she said recently. “It’s something that’s extremely common, one in five adults has a mental illness, so basically everyone is essentially connected to this problem and this epidemic. The problem with mental illness is people don’t look at it as a physical illness. When you think about it, the brain is actually the most complex organ in your body. We need to treat it like a physical illness and take it seriously.”

Serena Ryder
“With the songs I was writing I was trying to describe what I had been through, my struggle with depression, and getting out of it,” Serena says “You’re always going to fall down, you’re always going to get back up. It’s just a cycle. You can change your story.”

Catherine Zeta-Jones
“I never wanted to be as open about it as I was. I have a British stiff-upper-lip mentality. I’m not the kind of person who likes to shout out my personal issues from the rooftops but, with my bipolar becoming public, I hope fellow sufferers will know it is completely controllable. I hope I can help remove any stigma attached to it, and that those who don’t have it under control will seek help with all that is available to treat it. If I’ve helped anybody by discussing bipolar or depression, that’s great.”

Photos via Instagram @beyonce @ddlovato @catherinezetajones

Mental Health is a human experience

I’m in awe of the above women speaking candidly and honestly about how mental illness impacted their lives. Sharing experiences is an essential tool in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health. Whether we take comfort from the words of others or offer comfort to someone else by sharing our story, getting the conversation started breaks down the walls of isolation.

On reflection from reading the wise words of these amazing women, I have to ask:

Do we think we show weakness by raising our hand and asking for help? That we won’t be taken seriously as equals, either in the workplace or in our personal lives?

Do we struggle because we want to check off every item on the to-do list? Do we want to check everything off, while still looking mighty fabulous and Instagram ready? (Full disclaimer, I’m writing this at two in the afternoon, wearing my grey comfy sweatpants with hair that I could go Halloween trick-or-treating in!)

I’m apprehensive and saddened to ask this question, but do we not think we’re worth someone spending time on us?

Our mental health is the foundation of our wellbeing; it allows us to function in everyday life, feel confident and rise to challenges of our day. To nail all of this, we need to recognize that it requires constant nurturing.

Let’s champion individual women taking care of themselves, realizing that they need and deserve a little help when it comes to their mental well-being. Let’s do the best for each other and ourselves.

Here are three quick reminders to support ourselves, this International Women’s Day.

1.Remember: You don’t have to do it ALL.
 Ok, when I throw all my cards down onto the table — — I’m a mum, a wife, a daughter, a writer, a play therapist, a friend, and an excessive tea drinker with a talent for stuffing a handful of Maltesers in my mouth, all at once — impressed with the latter? You should be!

However, I have learned the hard way, that I cannot do everything. A handful of panic attacks and a bucketful of anxiety-ridden moments have taught me this big lesson. Quite frankly, I’m probably still learning. It’s only when I get my knickers well and truly twisted that I stop and have to talk with myself or seek the help of someone else who can guide me back onto the right path.

2. Remember: Take a moment for yourself.
Write down how you’re feeling today. I mean really feeling. Don’t allow the customary “I’m fine” to suffice! If something is happening underneath the surface, either a short episode of anxiety, depression or something more permanent, now is the time to be really honest with yourself. No one can help you if you don’t identify there is something wrong.

3. Remember: Talk to someone.

When you are ready, you can begin to talk to someone about how you are feeling. Perhaps you feel too vulnerable talking to someone you know in your friend or family circle, so talking to a licensed professional provides you with the ‘safe space’ and expertise to help you understand your experiences and feelings. 
If you are struggling with identifying and addressing your mental illness, call your local helpline, distress or support centre or connect with a therapist via a digital mental health therapy platform such as Snapclarity.

I hope you take this day to truly celebrate yourself and the amazing women in your life. 
To each and every single one of you kickass, incredible women, remember the woman you are is without a doubt, wonderful enough.