Mental Health Gender Gap in Spain: Women Struggle with Emotional Well-being
Mental health has become a prevalent topic in recent years, gaining significant attention in the media and public discourse. Despite the progress made, there is still much work to be done, particularly in understanding the nuances associated with mental health. One critical aspect is the gender gap that exists in emotional health.
Women, in general, face worse statistics in emotional health, which is a fundamental pillar of overall mental well-being. Marieta Jiménez, president of ClosinGap, emphasizes that emotional health is one of the major challenges faced by Spanish society. While the subject is no longer taboo, there is still significant work ahead.
To shed light on this issue, ClosingGap and Merck recently presented a report titled ‘Opportunity cost of the gender gap in emotional health.’ The report not only delves into the divergence between the emotional health of women and men but also explores its social and economic implications. Jiménez highlights the importance of quantifying this gap, as what is not measured often goes unnoticed.
Unfortunately, the general data on mental health in Spain are not optimistic. A study by the Confederation of Mental Health reveals that 74.7% of the population believes that the mental health of Spanish society has deteriorated in recent years. While mental health and emotional health are not identical, they are closely interconnected. Emotional well-being serves as the foundation for good mental health. Spain ranks sixth in emotional distress, indicating a pressing concern.
Jiménez argues that understanding emotional discomfort goes beyond mere generational changes or temporary setbacks. It is a multifaceted problem with far-reaching effects, including measurable consequences at an economic level. The study estimates that depression and anxiety account for a loss of 18,590.4 million euros for the Spanish economy. Of this amount, 37% is attributed to the gender gap in emotional distress, totaling 6,872 million euros annually. Spanish women exhibit poorer emotional well-being figures (54.6% compared to 67.4%) and higher levels of discomfort (27.3% compared to 17.5%) compared to their male counterparts.
Why does this gender gap persist? Paradoxically, women tend to be more proactive in caring for their emotional health and are more open to concepts such as self-care. However, they often struggle to find the necessary support to narrow this gender gap. Younger generations also face this challenge. To understand the reasons behind this disparity, one must examine society’s realities and the interconnectedness of various gender gaps in different domains.
According to Jiménez, there is a lack of real co-responsibility, limited opportunities for personal development, and insufficient time devoted to self-care and caring for loved ones. These factors are unacceptable and unsustainable. Women continue to bear a higher caregiving burden, which further exacerbates the challenge of achieving work-life balance. Jiménez gives an example, stating that if the over 400,000 women working part-time to care for their families extended their work hours to 40 per week, Spain could generate an additional 12 billion euros, equivalent to 1.1% of GDP.
Psychotherapist Luis Muiño identifies the roots of this gender gap, noting that girls are taught from an early age to shoulder the emotional burdens of others and seek validation for others’ actions, often at the expense of their own well-being.
Moreover, the mental burdens associated with managing domestic responsibilities and organizing family life significantly impact women’s well-being. Jiménez states that women are more involved in domestic tasks and caring for children and family members, often sacrificing their time for rest, leisure, and self-care. This burden does not merely affect the mental health of Spanish women but is also evident in other areas analyzed by ClosinGap’s reports.
Insufficient co-responsibility remains a recurring theme across their studies. Addressing this issue is crucial for improving the situation of women and society as a whole. Jiménez emphasizes that it should be a priority for families, companies, and institutions, recognizing that it carries a personal cost for women and has broader implications for their environment, society, and the economy.
The gender gap in emotional discomfort further restricts women’s access to the labor market and their ability to maintain long-term careers. In 2021, 63.1% of sick leave due to mental and behavioral disorders were taken by women, a statistic deemed unacceptable by Jiménez. Women also take longer absences, resulting in a greater impact on their professional trajectories. Failing to address this gender gap in sick leave costs the economy 1,642 million euros annually.
Recognition and active efforts to bridge the gender gap in emotional well-being are vital. Improving support systems, promoting co-responsibility, and fostering gender equality can have a profound impact on the mental health and overall well-being of Spanish women, their families, and society at large.