Why Women's Health Month Matters, And How To Advocate For Your Care

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Women's Health Month and National Women's Health Week occur in May yearly. These events bring attention to how gender minorities, including women, face several healthcare disparities. These issues are also recognized during the more general holiday of National Minority Mental Health Month.

Whether you're a woman or not, it may be valuable to look at the most prevalent ways gender disparities in healthcare may affect an individual. In addition, women may benefit from suggestions on advocating for themselves and strengthening their physical and mental health despite challenges and systemic barriers.

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Your health and wellbeing matter

Gender disparities in healthcare

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes several issues impacting women's health and healthcare. These issues include but aren't limited to:

Unequal power dynamics

Women and other gender minorities may not be listened to by medical professionals. One in five women says that a medical doctor has dismissed their symptoms.

Reproductive roles

Reproductive roles may be considered more important than what individuals prioritize for themselves or their health. Lack of choice or threats to a person's choices regarding reproductive health can become a challenge. 

Sexual, physical, or emotional violence

Violence can occur in healthcare settings but can also severely impact a person's wellness. 

Lower wages

Poverty or lower-income status can be an adverse health determinant and a risk factor for a broad spectrum of adverse health outcomes and illnesses. Statistics show that the wage gap is still prevalent for women.

Other disparities may also impact women, including a higher prevalence of certain mental or physical health conditions and diseases. For example, women are more likely to develop breast or cervical cancer or have a stroke, while men are more likely to receive a diabetes diagnosis. Stroke risk increases with age, and women often live longer. However, strokes are also more likely for pregnant women with high blood pressure. 

When a doctor truly listens, and you receive proper healthcare, it could save your life. With this factor in mind, there are a few ways women can advocate for themselves as patients and individuals and strengthen their mental health despite disparities.

How can women self-advocate in healthcare settings?

Self-advocacy means speaking up for what you need from your healthcare providers. Below are a few ways to healthily self-advocate. 

Do research 

Knowledge is power when navigating the healthcare system. Research the health condition or symptom you face and how you can make appointments more comfortable for you. For example, it may help to know that you can decline being weighed and be the one to suggest various tests for a health concern at a doctor's appointment. 

Diagnostic errors can have serious consequences. In some cases, doctors aren't informed about a condition and haven't looked at their personal biases that could affect your care. In other cases, they may use outdated methods, such as BMI measurements, which do not paint a complete or accurate picture of a healthy weight. Bring your knowledge to appointments and look for a provider that doesn't shame you for being informed. 

Be assertive 

Research may also allow you to assert your boundaries and back them up. Assertiveness might look like asking for a test and, if denied, continuing to push for it, seeing another provider, or asking why. If you ask why a provider won't order a test, you can ask them to document your request on your medical records. If the reason reflects a potential bias, the doctor may be more apt to order a test after you ask this question. You can also ask, "What are the other options for this condition?"

Prepare questions 

Consider having questions prepared before your appointment. You may also think about what to say in advance if a doctor does not do, within reason, what is required for you to get the best care.

Seek another provider 

If you can, get a second opinion from another provider or change providers if the first doctor is unkind to you. Read doctor's reviews or use a specialized physician directory and physician finder. Some people may be more informed on disparities and conscious of bias than others. You may also be able to ask for a woman or LGBTQ+ doctor in some cases. 

Consider taking a support person 

Some people find taking someone else with them beneficial when they go to their medical appointments. You could take a partner, friend, or medical advocate to your appointment to ensure another person witnesses maltreatment if it occurs. 

How to strengthen your mental health as a woman despite disparities

You can take a few steps to strengthen your mental health despite the potential disparities impacting gender minorities in healthcare, including but not limited to the following. 

Awareness and self-advocacy

Gaining awareness of the disparities that often affect gender minorities can cause you to be less alone and show you that your experiences are real. You shouldn't be brushed off in healthcare if you experience symptoms that could indicate a health concern. Consider gathering information from reliable sources and raising awareness of the concerns that affect gender minorities to spread the word. 

You can use the self-advocacy tips above, listen to your body, and empower women around you to do the same. Aside from Women's Health Month, another month to look out for is Gender Equality Month, celebrated every March. This month is a reminder to honor the heritage, accomplishments, and well-being of community constituents impacted by gender-based discrimination and oppression.

Getty/PeopleImages

Get enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep can lead to poor health, including mental and physical ailments. When you don't get enough sleep, it can increase your risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety, difficulties with insulin resistance, and stress. 

Consider cultivating an awareness of what bedtime practices help you sleep better. You can try certain sleep hygiene practices such as limiting technology before bed, limiting alcohol and caffeine, sleeping in a clean, cool, dark space, and taking an hour or two to wind down before you sleep. Experts have found that healthy adults below 65 should get around seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Ensure your nutritional needs are met

Nutrient deficiencies can impact mental health, and some may disproportionately affect women and other gender minorities. For example, it's common for women to face iron deficiency anemia, which can affect their mood and bone health. Taking care of your nutritional needs could serve as disease control and prevention.  

Manage stress

Stress can impact every aspect of health, including mental and physical wellness. Although many people experience stress, knowing how to cope with it can be vital to a healthy lifestyle. Stress management can include time in nature, taking walks, engaging in physical activity, reaching out for social connection, using cognitive reframing techniques, meditating, and trying breathing exercises.  

Socialize

Positive social connections with friends, family, and community may be crucial for mental well-being. Prioritizing these connections can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression while boosting mental health. Setting aside time for friends, going to a support group, sending updates to friends, and finding social activities that are healthy and enjoyable for you (such as an art class or volunteering) are all ways to increase positive social connections.

Make more time for your hobbies

When you engage in activities you enjoy, it can invoke happiness. In addition, research has proven that hobbies have health benefits. Hobbies may include sports, art, music, writing, and various other activities that help you stay active and engaged. These activities may promote stress management, increase your quality of life, and lower symptoms of anxiety and depression. Although some people may be conditioned to think that enjoyment is unproductive, caring for your health is productive. 

Consider therapy

Therapy may help you with stress management, relationships, communication, and learning ways to be more assertive. It can also treat mental health conditions, including those that disproportionately impact women and girls. Therapy provides a space to talk about what's on your mind and work with a professional who can guide you toward a life of fulfillment. You can find a therapist to work with within your area or use an internet-based therapy platform to find and meet with a therapist.

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Your health and wellbeing matter

Support options 

Due to the many disparities and obstacles women face in healthcare, getting and keeping an in-person therapy appointment could be challenging. For instance, you may struggle to find a minority therapist in your local area, or your employer may not give you enough time off work to receive proper care. In these scenarios, online therapy through platforms like BetterHelp may be convenient for women to get customized mental healthcare.

Online platforms allow you to meet with your therapist from your own home. It can also help you save time to devote to other parts of your life by eliminating the commute and the long waits in a therapist's office. On some platforms, clients can indicate a gender and identity preference for their therapist. For example, women can request a woman therapist who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, if applicable. 

Research shows that online therapy is as effective as in-person care for diverse mental health concerns. In some cases, it may be more effective, depending on the individual and condition. 

Takeaway

To learn more about select national health observances and celebrations, visit the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website and the National Health Observances page on federal government websites. If you want further support with your mental health as a woman, consider contacting a licensed therapist online or in your area to get started.
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