How Trying to 'Have It All' Has Put Women -- and Their Mental Health -- at Risk

With suicide rates sadly on the rise, it's time we have a serious discussion on what we should know -- and what we can do to help those who are struggling.

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"Suicide rates are slowly increasing among all adults," notes Daniel J. Reidenberg, PsyD, executive director of SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), a national nonprofit working to prevent suicide and help suicide survivors.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was a 45 percent increase in suicide among women alone between 1999 and 2014. But there isn't one easy answer as to why.

It's the culmination of many factors, Reidenberg says, including economic and unemployment rates, opiate use, and dual pressures of work and home.

"In contrast to men, women suffer tremendously under the weight of extraordinary stresses and strains in the daily course of living," notes Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, a licensed family and marriage therapist who practices in New York City.

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And while we all like to think we've made huge strides in advancing women's rights, "the reality is," says Hokemeyer, "that women still exist in inferior positions in our society."

Unlike men, who are trained to be confident and aggressive, "women are trained to define their selves from external standards that have been set by men," Hokemeyer says.

Women are frequently thrown into the demanding roles of service providers and caregivers. And let's be honest, we're pretty damn good at it. But doing so can lead women to "act as agents who change other people's lives rather than principals and directors of their own," says Hokemeyer.

Jeanette Raymond, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Los Angeles, believes depression is a "sense of anger turned inwards."

"Women are full of rage when they come into my therapy office," she says. "They're fed up with taking care of everyone else, of keeping their families together as children and as adults. They're furious that the men they pick don't take on that role of caring in the way they want."

In fact, a new study from the Medical University of Vienna found that the more unresolved conflicts in a relationship, the higher the likelihood of suicidal thoughts.

Combine all those factors and you start to see why so many women -- maybe even you -- feel lost at sea. (If that sea were comprised of rage, a sense of helplessness, and overwhelming disappointment.)

All those feelings, says Raymond, need to be "turned outwards and expressed safely." If not, they grow into depression. Or worse, suicidal thoughts.

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But there IS hope. Damn straight there is, and it starts with you.

"Women need to continue to challenge and change the order of their selves, their families, the communities and the world in which they live," urges Hokemeyer. "Continue to speak aggressively and loudly about the need for change. Continue to show that love and compassion will bring order in an angry and chaotic world."

Take concrete actions to shore yourself up. This can be as simple as writing down three things each day that define a positive aspect of your personality or give you strength, Hokemeyer suggests.

Cultivate whatever power you already have, he adds, be it your physical strength, your brain power, your love for your partner, or your capacity to feel deeply.

And of course, you've got to be equally resilient about signs that you're slipping into a depression. Changes in sleep patterns, weight loss or gain,  mood changes, impulsive behavior ... "The moment you see the signs, reach out to your most trusted friend for support," Hokemeyer says.

And if you still find yourself thinking about ways to end your life? Understand that you're honestly not alone. And that you can get help and support more readily than you think.

Yes, it's terrifying to let someone know how much you're suffering, but for the sake of your loved ones -- and yourself -- you need to try.

If you or someone you love is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to be connected to a skilled, trained counselor. The line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the call is free.

 

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