Leslie Carol Botha: Although this article was written in 2011 – I think the author raises some very good issues that are still pertinent – especially in light of this new push for young mothers to pop their little pills to get them through the day. It is interesting to read how US women are perceived elsewhere. However, what I like about this article – is that the author accurately delves into the patriarchal attitudes about the female sex – something these Xanax mothers have bought into lock, stock and barrel.
Why one in four women is on psych meds
Can so many US women really be mentally ill? Perhaps some are wrongly pathologised, but there is a rational explanation.
Are women crazy?
The world’s mostly male “great thinkers” have tended to say so, characterising women as the weaker sex both physically and psychologically. In Plato’s “Timaeus”, female moodiness and misbehavior are explained with the wandering uterus theory. The wily womb, in this account, “gets disconnected and angry, and wandering in every direction through the body, closes up the passages of the breath, and by obstructing respiration, drives them to extremity, causing all varieties of disease.” Several hundred years later, a Greek surgeon by the name of Galen would expand upon the Athenian’s explanation. For him, ladies’ mental ills stem from their sex drive: women become “hysterical”, he reasoned, when they don’t get properly laid.
From Galen’s era until the mid 19th century, there were several “prescriptions” available for nasty cases of hysteria: Married women needed to have more sex with their husbands, and single females were told to seek “pelvic massages” from qualified technicians, to produce “hysterical paroxysm” (what’s now known simply as an “orgasm”). The latter practice would eventually get recommended to women regardless of marital status, achieving its peak in Europe and the US around the mid 19th century. Vibrator treatments, somewhat unsurprisingly, would become one of the most popular outpatient procedures of that era.
Shortly after, hysteria’s explanatory powers would wane, overtaken by Sigmund Freud’s notion of penis envy. The Austrian psychiatrist claimed that women are batshit because, well, they just aren’t men. The result? Little girls would all grow up to become masochists with daddy complexes. The proof, supposedly, was rooted in the “phallic” way they liked to plait hair.
It would seem easy to laugh at these anti-woman approaches to mental health as absurdly antiquarian – until you read recently released statistics about psychiatric medication. A report from MedCo published last week notes that 25% of US women take meds for depression, anxiety, ADHD or another mental disorder. In men, that number is 15%. One article notes that more and more women have been prescribed anti-depressants in the past decade, and that nearly twice as many women are on anti-anxiety treatment as their male counterparts. One doctor’s explanation behind the disparity: women might be more likely to seek help.