THE many and varied roles women fulfil in their everyday lives, at work, in their personal lives, and in society at large, are often extremely demanding and this can lead to them continually putting the needs of others first, frequently at the expense of their own mental health and wellbeing. “It is all too easy for us as women to lose sight of our own individuality and needs while trying to juggle the responsibilities associated with being a worker, mother, partner, friend, caregiver, homemaker and many other roles,” said Dr Marshinee Naidoo, a psychiatrist practising at Akeso Alberton. RISK FACTORS WOMEN FACE Naidoo said that there are a number of physiological, socio-economic and cultural factors that may influence the patterns of mental health in men and women. “Women are more likely to experience trauma, often by way of physical violence, sexual assault or abuse, which may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], for example. “In addition, women who have experienced abuse are more likely to resort to using drugs and alcohol, which can lead to the development of substance abuse disorders,” she said.“Following abuse or other trauma, women are also more likely to experience suicidal thoughts or even attempt suicide.“It is important for anyone, man or woman, to seek professional support following traumatic experiences, however, there is a tendency for women in particular to suppress their own needs in favour of attending to the needs of others, and this can potentially have very serious consequences for their mental and physical health.”Naidoo also said that women may face different risks for mental disorders at various stages of their lives. “For example, some, although not all, women may experience mental health problems associated with menopause, menstruation, and during pregnancy or after giving birth.“Furthermore, infertility, miscarriage or stillbirth, and sexual dysfunction, can all potentially pose risks to mental health,” she said. “Women tend to experience higher rates of emotional eating, body image disorders and eating disorders.“Coupled with these risks, women are under immense pressure trying to live up to the expectations of society, often resulting in those with emotional and mental health disorders choosing to rather suffer in silence,” Naidoo warned. SEEKING HELP IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS “This Women’s Month, my message to women is that there is no need to suffer in silence when they find themselves struggling to cope with the many demands they face.“While many women will routinely go above and beyond to support their spouse or partner, children, friends, extended families and colleagues, too often they neglect their own emotional and mental health needs. “I would like to reassure women that prioritising their own needs is by no means selfish, and that seeking support and professional help should never be seen as a sign of weakness or personal deficiency. “Investing time and energy in maintaining your mental health not only benefits yourself but ultimately also the people in your life.” TEN TIPS FOR PROTECTINGMENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING “Apart from the most vital step of engaging with a mental health practitioner, or team of appropriately qualified experts, there are certain behaviours that can be helpful in managing stress and coping with the pressures of daily life. “Making time to incorporate these principles into your way of life can go a long way towards building resilience and protecting your mental wellbeing,” Naidoo said. SELF-CARE Women may feel guilty about making time for self-care, however, it is vital for our health and wellbeing.Unless you take care of your own needs, you will not have the psychological and physical energy to take care of others. EXPRESS GRATITUDE Take time to reflect on the things you are thankful for and show appreciation for what is valuable and meaningful to you.Gratitude can be expressed internally, by acknowledging all the good that is in your life, or externally, by recognising all the good that exists in the world around you.Demonstrating gratitude tends to give rise to a more positive attitude, which will, in turn, be beneficial for your personal, professional and social life. FRIENDSHIP AND FAMILY Friendship has a major impact on our mental health because it makes us more resilient. Resilience is the ability to cope with stress and adversity. Building a network of supportive friends and family can help you to have fun, feel connected and maintain good mental health. MINDFULNESS This is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Mindfulness can help to reduce stress. RELAXATION Spending time in nature, writing in a journal, meditation and yoga are examples of activities that can assist in achieving a state of relaxation. This down time is essential for managing stress. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY Activities such as sport and exercise are good for the health of both body and mind, and are great ways to improve circulation and regulate breathing. The resulting increase in oxygen levels improves brain functioning and calms the nervous system. SLEEP Sufficient quality sleep is an important factor for maintaining good mental health. Sleep disturbances and irregularities can be symptoms of mental-health conditions like depression and anxiety. Note that both pregnancy and menopause can cause disruption to sleep. EAT HEALTHILY What you eat may impact your mood and your overall mental health. Significant changes in appetite can be symptoms associated with various psychiatric conditions including mood disorders (both unipolar and bipolar disorders), psychotic illness, drug and alcohol misuse, anxiety disorders and eating disorders. HEALTHY LIFESTYLE CHOICES People may turn to smoking cigarettes, using drugs or alcohol in stressful times, but in the long term substance misuse can have serious consequences for your mental and physical health. TAKE YOUR MEDICATION AS PRESCRIBED Medication adherence is vital in treating and managing all mental health challenges.Bear in mind that once you go through menopause, medicines may work differently for you. The medicines you were prescribed before may not be as effective after menopause or may have different or worse side effects. Always discuss medication concerns with your doctor, and never stop taking your medication without medical advice. — Witness Reporter.