Unexplained behaviours in the past were often treated differently based on the gender and socioeconomic standing of the people exhibiting them. In many cases, mental health challenges in women were stigmatised and attributed to moral failings or supernatural causes.
Witch hunts of the medieval and early modern periods, for example, saw women accused of witchcraft. Looking at recent history, it does seem that the characteristics of mental illness get different treatment when assigned to men.
I’m reminded of a video clip of Jordan Klepper asking a Trump supporter if a woman should be president. She responds that a woman shouldn’t be president, because women have hormones and could start a war at any second. He then pointed out that most wars were started by men. Her description of women as being naturally unstable and the implication that men are free from such things points to a long-held belief that women are “crazy.”
That was part of the stereotype I grew up with in the US. Girls mature faster than boys. Girls are bad at mathematics and science. Girls are emotional. Boys are strong. Boys are aggressive. Girls are quiet. Girls are nurturing. Girls shouldn’t be leaders. Girls can’t do the same things that boys can.
Do the same stereotypes exist here? Sometimes. But Sweden is often recognized for its progressive approach to gender equality and social policies. There has been a concerted effort to challenge traditional gender roles and promote equality. Mental health awareness is part of this broader societal shift.
The Swedish healthcare system generally emphasises accessibility and inclusivity in mental health services.
While the dark winters and social isolation (Sweden has the most single-person homes in the world) might lead one to think that depression and suicide run rampant, Swedish society focuses a lot on prevention.
Education in schools aims to build awareness and reduce stigma. There is a publicly funded healthcare system which gives everyone access to mental health services. Companies often offer free fruit during the week, plenty of fika breaks, a health allowance which pays employees back for things like gym memberships, and a focus on work-life balance.
But what I have most been impressed by is that no matter the weather, you will see people on bikes, walking, running, skiing, skating, sledding, etc. And people of all ages! It’s not uncommon to see elderly individuals out with their walkers, even on the iciest of days.
I’m not saying it’s perfect here, but to co-opt a Swedish saying about the weather, Sweden often offers up the right clothes for mental health.
This is a column and the views are the author's own.