Language selector

9.3. Intersections with sex

Page controls

Page content

There is a close connection between mental health disabilities, addictions and gendered violence. Women who are survivors of violence, trauma and abuse often face substance use and mental health issues.[61] Several women reported gender-based violence related to having a mental health history. Some said they were sexually harassed or assaulted by patients or staff while hospitalized for a psychiatric disability.

At [a hospital], I was subjected to harassment from a fellow … patient. He would appear every morning at my bed, wake me up, and point to his erection, and show me his colourful collection of condoms. Later it was discovered another woman complained of an assault. I was terrified in my bed, afraid of taking medication since I thought I’d be raped since I was sedated … It was reported, nothing was done, [the other female patient] was discharged and he continued to harass me. – Written submission

Women with mental heath issues and addictions can be even more vulnerable to harassment or violence when they also experience poverty, age-related and other disabilities. In late 2011, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care set up a task force to address the many complaints of abuse against older adults in nursing homes, including sexual assault of female residents with dementia. [62]

Some women said their mental health concerns were minimized compared to men’s mental health issues, and that mental health issues and “women’s issues” are seen as the same thing. Historically, women in the West were diagnosed with “hysteria” – a so-called nervous disorder – based on their female reproductive anatomy. This provided a rationale for denying them civil and political rights. [63]

One addictions worker described negative stereotypes about women with addictions – they are assumed to be sex workers or to put themselves in situations where they contract illnesses. Women with psychiatric disabilities or addictions may face discrimination based on cultural ideals of femininity because they gain or lose weight due to their disability or the side-effects of medication.

Women’s experiences with discrimination based on mental health and addictions must be understood in the context of other Code-related identities, including sexual orientation, race, ancestry, age, family status and having other disabilities. For example, we heard that mothers may experience multiple stereotypes or challenges based on sex, family status and disability. We were told women with addictions may be assumed to be poor parents or may be afraid to use mental health or addiction services because of concerns that child protection workers will become involved and their children will be taken from them.

[61] Ad hoc working group on women, mental health, mental illness and addictions, Women, Mental health, Mental Illness and Addictions in Canada: An Overview (2006) online: Canadian Women’s Health Network at 25.

[62] Moira Welsh & Jesse McLean, “Nursing home residents abused” Toronto Star, (17 November 2011), online: The Toronto Star; Moira Welsh, “Task force gets cracking on troubled nursing home system” Toronto Star (1 February 2012) online: The Toronto Star 

[63] Barbara Ehrenreich & Deirdre English, For Her Own Good: 150 Years of Experts’ Advice to Women, (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1978), as cited by the Ad hoc working group on women, mental health, mental illness and addictions, supra note 61 at 1.


Book Prev / Next Navigation