Ask The Expert: How To Support Women’s Mental Health

More women are experiencing emotional burnout. Here’s how to support your partner and help her handle the stress.

By Sasha Gonzales        14 March 2022

Juggling work and family responsibilities is stressful enough, but since the pandemic, many women have found it harder to maintain this balancing act. There’s no doubt that working from home while caring for the family and doing household chores have taken a toll, with more women experiencing stress at work and at home compared to men, according to a survey done by National University of Singapore’s Mind Science Centre and the Community Care Buddy.

It’s important to recognise when your partner is stressed and to ask if she needs help. Psychiatrist Dr Lim Boon Leng, from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, shares some tips for managing this stress before it leads to serious issues such as anxiety and depression.

Q: What are some common stresses experienced by women today?

Dr Lim: They’re mostly related to work and family. On the one hand, women are expected to work as hard as their male colleagues; on the other hand, they’re expected to do more at home and be there for everyone.

Many women aren’t just working from home now; they also have to raise their kids, breastfeed their babies and care for others in their household. Plus, they’re more people-oriented, unlike men, who are more task-oriented. As such, they tend to have stronger bonds with their children and can’t help but feel torn between their work and family life.

For example, while working, they may feel guilty about not being able to care for their children and loved ones, and even when their workday is over and they’re at home, they may have to juggle extra job-related tasks with being with their kids and doing household chores.

This can feel exhausting, leading to physical and emotional burnout and even a loss of identity.

Working from home? Find out more about balancing your work and family life.

Q: How might these problems permeate other aspects of a woman’s life?

Dr Lim: She may struggle with finding time to rest, exercise or eat proper meals. She may not make time for herself or her spouse.

As the pressure intensifies, she may seek comfort in unhealthy habits such as stress-eating, overspending and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

She may also find fault with her spouse for not pulling his weight at home. This may lead to quarrels and relationship issues.

Work- and family-related stress are often triggers for anxiety orders and depression, conditions that can affect a woman’s ability to focus at work.

Q: What are some differences between men’s and women’s mental health?     

Dr Lim: Studies have shown that women are more likely to suffer from anxiety issues. Fortunately, they usually seek help for their mental health, unlike men, and they do so earlier, too. They’re also more likely to share their problems with friends and loved ones, whereas men tend to suppress their stress and tend to only seek professional help when they’re severely depressed or anxious.

Q: How can women protect their mental health and prevent problems like anxiety and depression?

Dr Lim: They can start by ensuring that they stick to a healthy daily routine, with adequate rest and regular meal and bathroom breaks.

Exercise is also important. This may include daily walks or a more strenuous activity done for at least 30 minutes, thrice a week.

Women shouldn’t put all their focus on their kids or give everything they have to their job. They should dedicate time to themselves, their hobbies and their spouse and find a balance between everything they do.

Read our tips on getting better quality sleep and making time for self-care.

Q: How can women ask for help if they’re struggling emotionally?

Dr Lim: Be genuine and upfront, and make it clear that you need help or a listening ear. Don’t just hint at your difficulties and expect your spouse to second- guess them. And, rather than vent repeatedly, it helps to be solution-focused. Remember to thank your spouse for his help, too. When you positively reinforce his behaviour this way, he’ll be more likely to help you again next time.

Q: How can men support their wife during stressful times?

Dr Lim: They can help by taking over the cooking, child-minding and household chores and giving their spouse time to rest.

They can also offer to be their wife’s sounding board when she needs to discuss her worries, and help her manage her stress and anxiety by getting extra help around the home, sending the kids to day care, and empowering her to change her toxic work environment, for instance.

If you’re contributing to your wife’s stress, it’s important to adjust your expectations. Remind her that you’re a team and that you’re committed to getting through the tough times together.

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