Wednesday, 15 June 2016 10:03

Christian Women Are Experiencing the Perfect Storm

Written by  Nancy Thomas
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It’s the moms of this nation - single, married, widowed - who really hold this country together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters. You know it’s true, don’t you? You’re the ones who always have to do a little more.  Ann Romney


Traditional female role expectations and the modern reality women face create a perfect storm of stress for women.  An article by the American Mental Health Counselors Association in May documents new research indicating what many of us have realized for a long time; women are facing a “perfect storm of factors and issues” significantly increasing their risk for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.


Four of the critical factors are outlined as contributors to the perfect storm.


1. Postpartum depressionaffects one in seven women each year and most are untreated due to the shame and stigma of postpartum depression.  Unfortunately, untreated maternal depression has long term negative effects for children in the form of depression, anxiety, conduct and substance abuse disorders. When children experience depression it is associated with an increased severity of their illness, risk of suicide and other violent behavior illustrating that the effect of maternal depression is not exclusive to mothers and is devastating to children.


2. Discrimination in the workplace and income disparity leads to higher rates of depression and anxiety, particularly for poor and minority women.  Women earn 79% of median income of men and are 2.5 times more likely to have depression than men with similar levels of education and experience.  Social and cultural gender inequality funnels women into jobs where they are compensated less, promoted less, have less power and where they experience disrespect and harassment in the workplace. Working mothers are assumed to be less focused on their careers because of their family even when their family depends on their income to survive.


3. Social stressors include the lack of paid parental/maternity leave, particularly for low income women and discrimination against women who take maternity leave that is provided.  Evidence indicates that paid maternal and parental leave positively impacts the mental and physical health of the child and mother for years to come.  Knowing that one’s job and income are protected during maternity leave has positive impacts mental health. The lack of affordable, quality childcare, childcare for sick children and the multiple role demands women compounds stress. 


4. Trauma, violence and abuseeffects one in four women.  Women 20-24 are at the greatest risk.  This includes physical, sexual and psychological abuse by a current or former partner or spouse with effects that can last a lifetime.  Intimate partner violence occurs in all socio-economic groups and within Christian families.  Violence is outside of the awareness of others, minimized when brought to the awareness of clergy and goes unaddressed. Violent people inappropriately use scripture to shame and control their spouse. Women frequently believe their abusers’ statements that the violence is their fault, they deserve the abuse and they have failed as a wife and mother.



Traditionally, when coping is difficult for women, it has been viewed as a weakness in faith or character which further shames and isolates them.  It is time to place a high priority on integration of mental health awareness and supportive services into ministries for women because it impacts the lives of everyone in their families. Gaining knowledge in this area enhances women’s ministries, decreases stigma and increases access to care.


As faith communities it is imperative that we work to provide supportive public policies for women and their families, dispute commonly accepted negative images, rhetoric, disrespect and misinterpretation of scripture surrounding women. Supporting women and children is integral to the survival of our families and our faith communities as women and children are vital to the growth of the Church.


Compassionately refer women and families experiencing stress or mental health issues to faith and family friendly counseling or their primary care physician. Begin ministries that support working women with children by incorporating mental, physical and spiritual health, healthy relationships and community support.  Fortunately research is recognizing that the holistic approach is important to wellness and recovery.  I think Paul did too!


Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.

Philippians 4:3 (NRSV)




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