GLASGOW, United Kingdom — Studies on the prevalence of mental health problems in African girls and women reveal a growing concern for women’s mental health. Many African women develop mental health issues as a consequence of facing sexual abuse, unemployment, crime, lack of education, poverty, the burden of care responsibilities, violence, hunger and so forth.
Impact of Unemployment on African Women’s Mental Health
Unemployment hinders women’s mental health. The unemployment rate in Africa varies from country to country. In South Africa, it was 30.5% in 2019. Unemployed women often rely on their role as a housewife as their identity, experiencing a decrease in self-esteem. Some African societies stigmatize and marginalize single women. These women struggle with their economic stability. This lack of economic independence negatively impacts women’s mental health because it reinforces their poverty.
Impact of Sexual Abuse and Violence on African Women’s Mental Health
Emotional, sexual and physical abuse by intimate partners increases African women’s susceptibility with regard to mental health issues. Indeed, women who experience these forms of abuse show depressive symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide. In addition, girls who suffer sexual and physical abuse in the early stages of their lives seem to be more likely to engage with drug and alcohol abuse, are less sensitive to violent practices and have lower school attendance and performance. Thus, it is clear that the experience of emotional, sexual and physical abuse influences the life of women whose living conditions worsen as a result of the trauma.
Impact of Lack of Education on African Girls’ Mental Health
Stigma plays a major role in the resistance of women in getting support for their mental health. In particular, women fear being stigmatized and discriminated against if they seek psychological support. In order to develop anti-stigma strategies, it is essential to educate African women about the importance of mental health and wellbeing for their life opportunities, life conditions and future generations’ healthy development.
African communities often interpret mental health issues as a failure to propitiate ancestors, as manifestations of religious spiritual evils or as a call to become a healer for the community. All these beliefs lead women to mistrust psychological support and services. Scholars stress the importance of mental health awareness in Africa as studies reveal that people who do not heal from their traumas are likely to pass on the cycle of suffering to future generations. This could provoke an increase in poor mental health in African countries.
Impact of Crime on African Women’s Mental Health
Experiences of crime seem to escalate the risk of victimization in poor African neighborhoods leading to greater social anxiety and lower well-being among those communities. The lack of social and physiological centers in the victims’ areas makes it more challenging for victims to seek support. Criminal offenses such as theft, burglary and vandalism are among the most common. Furthermore, women fear crime more than men as they feel more vulnerable in terms of their chances and the costs of crime victimization. This results in increased feelings of danger and life dissatisfaction among women who are exposed to a high number of incidents of crimes.
Possible Strategies for Improving Women’s Mental Health in Africa
In order to better tackle African women’s mental health, it is key to develop anti-stigma strategies. For example, circulating mental health information among African communities, emphasizing the importance of mental health among children at school and the use of legislation to prevent discrimination. Moreover, there is the need for increased training, social work and psychological centers, investments in mental health programs, strengthening community-based interventions and much more.
Better mental health would contribute to the enrichment of women’s living conditions and opportunities. Politicians are increasing awareness of the importance of mental health. Many programs are being shaped to sustain women and enhance their mental wellbeing, so there is hope.
– Virginia Arena