Sexual and reproductive health is not just based on having a good physical health. Another component we tend to forget and talk little about, is mental health. Did you know that depression after having given birth affects 10-15% of women in industrialized countries, and possibly 25-30% of women in developing countries? Or that depression and suicidal thoughts are common with women who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence?
New areas of interest are up and coming when we talk about the link between mental and reproductive health. These are, among others, the mental health effects of childbirth, sexually transmitted infections, menopause and infertility. Living with conditions affecting your reproductive or sexual health might also affect your self-esteem and confidence, sometimes leading to anxiety and depression. These are topics that need and deserve attention. Because healthis defined by WHO as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This means that we cannot omit mental health when we talk about sexual and reproductive health. A challenge we face is that in some parts of the world, talking about mental health and acknowledging mental issues is still taboo and people who experience mental issues are stigmatized. Unfortunately, the research that is being done on mental health and sexual and reproductive health is disproportionate. Many of the world’s poorer countries are not being researched, leaving us with more research on mental health and SRH in industrialized countries.
Most people live in societies where they are expected to have children. These expectations might come from their spouse, family or even society, and not being able to fulfil them can have a massive impact on mental health. Infertility is, in many countries, taboo and people who are infertile might experience mental issues as a result of this. Sometimes, you might find that not being able to bear children, or male infertility, put the person’s gender identity in question. Living with a mental illness might in many ways be more challenging than a physical injury, because it is not necessarily visible or something a person who has not experienced it themselves is able to understand. This is why we need to break the taboo of mental illnesses. We need to learn more about how they unfold and impact our daily lives, and how our reproductive and sexual health is in many ways interlinked with our mental health.
How can we help? What might not have been a big deal to you might have been a tough experience to your neighbour. Whereas you yourself did not experience depression after having given birth, your sister might have. Whereas you as a man have come to terms with the fact that you are not having children, your brother might be suffering. The most important thing we can do to contribute to more openness is to talk about how we are doing, and supporting and listening to those around us when they are struggling. By doing so, we might also contribute to lightening the pressure we feel from our surroundings on matters where it is tough to be the minority.