Why women’s mental health is not the same as men, according to science and Liptember

  • Liptember have been funding women’s mental health research and support programs since 2010
  • Matrescence is the natural transition into motherhood
  • It creates an emotional tug-of-war that may be confused with postpartum depression
  • Social connection is one of the strongest protectors for mental health

In the past, mental health research mostly focused on men with the findings applied to women. Since 2010, Liptember have been funding research focused on women’s mental health that leads to more support programs catered around their needs.

“The biggest misconception we’ve faced is that it promotes women’s mental health at the cost of men’s,” says Katrina Locandro, community manager of Liptember.

Woman wearing lipstick for Liptember.
Photo credit: Liptember

tweet-graphic-transTweet: “As men and women are inherently different in many ways, it only makes sense that mental health is tailored to each gender for the best results”—Katrina Locandro, community manager of Liptember.

In 2019, Liptember raised $2 million with funds going towards The Centre for Women’s Mental Health at The Royal Women’s Hospital, Lifeline Australia, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, R U OK?, The Pretty Foundation, batyr Australia and Collingwood Magpie Nest.

Woman holding a bag.

You don’t have to go through life challenges alone. Two of the most powerful things we can offer each other are love and support.

Take for example ants. They can carry 100x their weight. For humans this would mean being able to lift as much as a car. When an ant is struggling to carry a weight, another ant can sense that and help to carry some of the load. Much in the same way, humans were born to be social creatures and help each other.

Two women standing with one applying lipstick onto the other.
Photo credit: Liptember

Dr. Alexandra Sacks is a published author and reproductive psychiatrist who has been working in the field for the past decade. During that time she noticed a pattern amongst her patients which she shared during her talk at a 2018 TED conference.

“A woman calls me up, she’s just had a baby and she’s concerned.” She says, ‘I’m not good at this. I’m not enjoying this. Do I have postpartum depression?’”

Dr Sacks conducts an assessment to find that she is not clinically depressed. Telling her that she isn’t sick doesn’t make her feel any better.

After much research, Dr Sacks discovered an out-of-print essay from 1973 authored by anthropologist Dana Raphael. There was one word that stood out to her—matrescence.
It’s a word that sounds quite similar to adolescence. Mostly because it is also a time when the body and hormones are changing which leads to an upheaval of emotion.

The term matrescence is not commonly used in the medical vocabulary. “It’s often confused with a more serious condition called postpartum depression,” she tells the audience.

The way Dr Sacks describes matrescence to her patients is with the analogy of ‘pull and push’.

The hormone oxytocin is released during childbirth and skin-to-skin contact. It ‘pulls’ the mother’s attention to her baby so that her child is at the centre of her world.

At the same time her mind is being ‘pushed’ away to other parts of her identity—other relationships, hobbies, work, spiritual and intellectual pursuits. Then there are also physical needs—to sleep, eat, have sex, use the bathroom.”

“Matrescence creates an emotional tug-of-war, but the ambivalence is normal and nothing to be ashamed of,” according to Dr Sacks.

This is why she is a huge proponent for talk therapy—women talking with family and friends and not just their reproductive psychiatrist.

For Liptember, one of the most rewarding aspects about the campaign, “is to see the relationships created within our community and the support women are providing each other,” says Locandro.

Two women wearing lipstick and blowing kisses to the camera
Photo credit (L to ): Lisa Schefman and Helen James from the blog Mama Loves to Share.

She has observed that, “I think it’s very rare these days for people not to have some form of direct connection with mental health within their family, friendship or working group.” There is truth to that. The Australian Institute of Health estimate that in the past 12 months 1 in 5 (20%) of Australians aged 16-85 have experienced a common mental disorder such as anxiety, depression or alcohol dependence.

Up until recently research has only focused on a handful of risk and protective factors against depression. Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) identified more than 100 modifiable factors that could prevent depression. Social connection was one of the strongest protective factors. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has relegated social connection to almost entirely online. Now, more than ever, social has never been more important even if it is only through Zoom, text messages and phone calls.

Woman blowing a kiss to the camera.
Photo credit: Rachael Gough, blogger at Champagne S’il Vous Plait.

This year the foundation made a conscious effort to provide more opportunities for women to get involved online and connect. “We’re seeing a huge demand for mental health services at the moment and Liptember has a big role to play by helping provide a platform for women to connect and support one another during such a difficult time,” says Locandro.

All the emotional stories of resilience, connection and support people have shared with the foundation over the years, “give us so much motivation to continue our work and grow the campaign to support as many women as possible,” says Locandro.

Three women huddled together for a photo.
Fundraisers (L to R): Julie Ursel, Fiona Bauer and Taylor Bree supporting Liptember in 2019. | Photo credit: Civic Reputation

A gift of $50 can provide a young girl with her own set of body confidence books and activities from The Pretty Foundation. A gift of $200 helps provide care for a mother with postpartum depression and anxiety at The Royal Women’s Hospital Centre for Women’s Mental Health. Support women’s mental health today over at Liptember.com.au.



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