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Understanding The Submerged Mental Health Trauma of Indian Housewives

In spite of us living in the 21st century, women of our country that constitute about half of the population still face several issues and oppression in their day-to-day lives. The Indian woman is generally seen or expected to be “sanskari” and execute a multi-dimensional role in a society like that of a daughter, mother, sister, wife, breadwinner, and also service provider. She seldom receives the recognition and respect she deserves for her relentless efforts and dedication to her family. This puts her under tremendous pressure and exposes her to trauma which in turn affects her emotionally and mentally. In fact, even her health and mental wellness concerns are hardly catered to and she often suffers in silence. An elaborative study conducted during the COVID-19 period highlights how the pandemic worsened the mental health conditions of women, specifically housewives and young girls who were confined to their homes, and how this led to a rise in the number of suicide cases amongst women. As per a report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2021, around 45000 women died by suicide in India and 23000 of them were housewives. It was also observed that suicides were more prevalent in young women (up to the age of 30 years) and accounted for 54 percent of the total reported cases compared to 36 percent in young men. The data is concerning for suicide cases were at their all-time high during the pandemic period and yet hundreds if not thousands of more such incidences were not reported due to the stigma attached to mental health. Self-immolation and poisoning were two popular methods undertaken by women while attempting suicide.

The following reasons were attributed to the mental health disturbances in women leading to a rise in suicides:
1) Job cuts: The impact of the pandemic was such that it resulted in large-scale unemployment and women apart from daily-wage workers and others in particular were the prime targets who lost their jobs.
2) Isolation: Social isolation and confinement within four walls is in itself a stressful event and was accompanied by worry regarding the mysterious virus which aggravated anxiety and panic amongst people.
3) Domestic violence: Having to face violence and abuse on a regular basis is likely to bring about serious mental health implications. A surge in domestic abuse cases in women was noted which further puts them at risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and engaging in self-harm.
4) Dropouts on the rise: A rise in the number of young girls dropping out of school was something seen during the pandemic due to inaccessibility to the internet, devices, and technology.
5) Child marriages: Girls, often looked at as a burden on the family were married off which led them to engage in early childbearing, providing and caring for their family thereby totally shifting their focus from studies and reducing their future opportunities.
6) Marital issues: Relationship issues between partners can lead to frequent arguments, and bitter feelings and even cause an otherwise potentially beautiful bond to end thereby disturbing both the individuals involved.
Other reasons include:
1) Dowry cases
2) Gender-related exclusion
3) Low autonomy and decision-making power
4) Diminished self-esteem 
5) Financial abuse
6) Unidentified mental illness issues
7) Limited opportunities for education and work
8) Lack of agency
9) Nutritional deficiencies
10) Infertility
11) Withdrawal symptoms

What could be done?
a) With respect to reducing the trauma and mental health risks posed to housewives and women in general, we need to draw in large-scale interventional programs ensuring the welfare of women.
b) A comprehensive and inclusive National Suicide Prevention Strategy encompassing apt and reliable data, with proper redressal mechanism could prove to be beneficial.
c) Receiving adequate political attention can make sure that mental health illnesses no longer remain a stigma or taboo.
d) Inputs from experts and mental health practitioners can ensure of developing a well-planned strategy for suicide prevention and other mental illnesses.

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