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

Updated February 8, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Women's Health Month and National Women's Health Week take place in May of every year. These events bring attention to the fact that gender minorities, including women, are known to face several different disparities in healthcare. These issues are also recognized during the more general holiday of National Minority Mental Health Month.

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This article will discuss some of the most prevalent ways that gender disparities in healthcare may affect an individual. It will also provide suggestions for how women can advocate for themselves, strengthening both their physical and mental health despite potential challenges.

Gender Disparities In Healthcare

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes several different issues that impact women's health and women's healthcare. These issues include but aren't limited to:
  • Unequal power dynamics: One example of this in healthcare is that women and other gender minorities may be less apt to be listened to by medical professionals. One in five women says that a medical doctor has dismissed their symptoms.

  • Reproductive roles: One potentially problematic view is that reproductive roles are more important than what an individual prioritizes for themselves or their health. Lack of choice or threats to a person's choice regarding reproductive health can become a major issue.

  • Sexual, physical, or emotional violence: This can occur in healthcare settings, but it can also impact a person's wellness in various ways. The impacts of this can be severe.

  • Lower wages: Poverty or lower-income status is a known negative health determinant and a risk factor for a broad spectrum of negative health outcomes and illnesses. Notably, statistics show that the wage gap is still prevalent for women.

  • A lack of focus on disease prevention

If you or someone you know has experienced or is experiencing sexual violence and needs help, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE (4673).

Other disparities may also impact women such as a higher prevalence of certain mental or physical health conditions and diseases in female patients. 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. One of the reasons women are more likely to have strokes than men is that stroke risk increases with age, and women generally live longer. However, strokes are also more likely for women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy. 

When a doctor hears your voice, and you get what you need in terms of healthcare, there's the very real possibility that it could save your life. With this in mind, we’ll address some of the ways  women can advocate for themselves as patients and individuals as well as strengthen their mental health despite disparities.How Can Women Self-Advocate In Healthcare Settings?

Self-advocacy means speaking up for your needs. Here are some ways women can self-advocate in healthcare settings:

  • Do your research. Knowledge is power when it comes to navigating the healthcare system. Research not just on the health concern or condition that you face, but also on how you can make appointments more comfortable for you. For example, it may help to know that, in most cases, you can decline being weighed and that you can be the one to suggest various tests for a health concern. 

Diagnostic errors can have serious consequences. Sometimes, doctors aren't informed on every condition and haven't looked at their personal biases that could affect your care, or there may be another hurdle. Other times, they may use outdated methods such as BMI measurements, which do not paint a complete or accurate picture of what a healthy weight may be. Bring in the facts, and remember that you know your body best.

  • Assert your needs. Research is  important because it allows you to assert your needs and back them up. This may look like asking for a test and, if denied, continuing to push for it, seeing another provider, or asking why. If you ask why they 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. Don't be afraid to say something like, "What are the other options for this condition?"

  • Have questions prepared. Consider having your questions prepared before your appointment. You may also want to 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 you need to. Read doctor's reviews or use a specialized physician directory and physician finder. Some are more apt to be informed on disparities and be more conscious of bias than others. In many cases, you can ask to see a woman doctor if desired.

  • Consider taking someone with you. Some people find it beneficial to take someone else with them when they go to their medical appointments. This could mean taking a partner, friend, or medical advocate to your appointment(s).

How To Strengthen Your Mental Health As A Woman Despite Disparities

There are some steps you can take to strengthen your mental health despite the potential disparities impacting gender minorities in healthcare. Here are some of the things that you can make it a priority to do:

  • Awareness And Self-Advocacy

The awareness of disparities alone can be powerful. Gaining awareness of the disparities that often affect gender minorities is important because it confirms two important things: first, that you aren't alone, and second, your concerns are very real. You shouldn't be brushed off in a healthcare setting 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.

  • Get Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep can lead to poor health, including both mental and physical ailments. When we don't get enough sleep, it can increase the risks of heart disease (one of the biggest healthcare risks for women), feelings of depression and anxiety, difficulties with insulin resistance or managing stress, and more.

Consider cultivating an awareness of what bedtime practices help you sleep better. You may want to try certain sleep hygiene practices such as limiting technology before bed, limiting alcohol and caffeine, sleeping in a clean, cool dark space, and taking the time to wind down for bed. As far as how much sleep is considered enough, experts say that healthy adults below the age of 65 should get around 7-9 hours per night.

  • Ensure That 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 be an important disease control and prevention step as well. 

  • Manage Stress

Stress may be one of the worst things for our overall health, including mental wellness. Everyone faces stress at some time or another, but knowing how to cope with it can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Stress management can include time in nature, taking walks or engaging in other forms of activity, reaching out for social connection when you need it, cognitive reframing techniques, meditation, and breathing exercises, for example. 

  • Socialize

Positive social connections with friends, family, and your community may be crucial for your mental wellbeing. Prioritizing these connections can decrease stress, feelings of anxiety, and depression while boosting  your mental health. Setting aside time for friends, going to a support group, sending email 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 feelings of happiness, but research shows that it could have health benefits as well. Hobbies may include sports, art, music, writing, and various other activities that help you stay active and engaged. Many hobbies can promote stress management, increase the quality of life, and even help lower symptoms of anxiety and depression. Although many of us are conditioned to think that doing something solely for enjoyment is unproductive, it can be a powerful move for your health to engage in the things you love.

  • Consider Mental Health Therapy

Mental health therapy can help with stress management, relationships, communication, and learning ways to be more assertive. It can also be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including those that may disproportionately impact women and girls. Therapy provides a space to talk about what's on your mind and work with a professional who can help 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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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 be hard-pressed to find a minority therapist in your local area, or your employer may not give you enough time off work to receive proper care. Online therapy is a convenient way for women to get customized mental health care and make their health a priority. It allows 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. 

Research shows that online therapy is as effective as in-person care for diverse mental health concerns. Sometimes, it's even more effective, depending on the individual and condition. 

The BetterHelp platform has over 20,000 licensed, experienced professionals in various specialties. When you sign up, you'll take a short questionnaire that'll help us give you the best therapeutic match. If the first therapist you connect with isn't right for you, BetterHelp makes it easy to switch, and you can cancel services at any point in time if you need to.

Takeaway

To learn more about select national health observances and celebrations, you can visit the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website and the National Health Observances page on federal government websites. The human services office on women’s health also offers more information on their website specific to women’s health and disease prevention. Should you need support on your journey, contact the compassionate and experienced therapists here at BetterHelp

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