Mental health disorders can affect anyone of any gender, race or age. There are more than 50 million Americans who suffer from mental illness Some mental health conditions occur more often in women and can play a significant role in the state of a woman’s overall health.While men experience higher rates of autism, early onset schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, and alcoholism.
If you are a woman experiencing depression, an anxiety disorder, or another mental health condition, you are not alone.
According to a recent survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 29 million American women, or about 23 percent of the female population, have experienced a diagnosable mental health-related disorder in the last year alone. And those are just the known instances.
Experts say that millions of other cases may go unreported — and untreated. Mental health conditions more common in women include:
- Depression. Women are twice as likely as men (12 percent of women compared to 6 percent of men) to get depression.
- Anxiety and specific phobias. Although men and women are affected equally by such mental health conditions as obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobias, women are twice as likely as men to have panic disorder, generalized anxiety, and specific phobias.
- Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD following a traumatic event.
- Suicide attempts. Men die from suicide at four times the rate that women do, but women attempt suicide two or three times more often than men.
- Eating disorders. Women account for at least 85 percent of all anorexia and bulimia cases and 65 percent of binge-eating disorder cases.
Women’s Symptoms Are Also Different
Even when men and women share a common mental health diagnosis, the symptoms, and subsequently the treatment, can be different.
For example, a man who is depressed is likely to report job-related problems, while a woman is more likely to report physical issues, like fatigue or appetite and sleep disturbances. Unlike their depressed male counterparts, women tend to develop problems with alcohol abuse within a few years of the onset of depression. Women are more likely to use religious and emotional outlets to offset the symptoms of depression compared to men, who often find relief through sports and other hobbies.
Women with schizophrenia more often experience depression and thought impairment, while men with schizophrenia are more likely to become apathetic and socially isolated. Women with schizophrenia typically respond faster to antipsychotic medication and need less personal care. Schizophrenic women also report more mood symptoms, which can complicate the diagnostic process and may require a prescription for mood stabilizers in addition to anti-psychotic medications.
Does Gender Play a Part in Mental Illness?
Studies have shown that biological factors do play an important role in mental illness. It’s in fact a critical element in one’s mental health and possible development of mental health disorders. Women have lower serotonin levels than men and also process the chemical at slower rates, which can contribute to fluctuations in mood. Females are generally more predisposed to hormonal fluctuations as well. Biological differences alone can prove key to the development of some mental health issues.
Other Factors Affecting Mental Illness in Women
Aside from gender, women are also largely affected by sociocultural influences and beliefs. Culturally speaking, women have historically been the subordinate gender, putting them in roles as primary caregivers to children and the elderly. Even though gender roles have seen a shift in our culture, with women taking on more powerful careers and men staying at home to take care of children, there is still a big amount of stress placed on women. This stress can lead to depression and panic attacks.
Throughout our society, females have unfortunately been the object of sexualization, whether it be through magazines, movies, television shows, or peer relationships. This frequently negative sexualization can cause problems with the healthy development of self-esteem and self-image among females, as reported by the American Psychological Association. Both of these factors can not only lead to unhealthy self-image but also to shame, depression, anxiety, and stress.
In conjunction with the sexualization of women, violence and sexual abuse are two more important factors contributing to mental health issues in women. Reportedly one in five women is a victim of rape or attempted rape, and females also have a higher instance of experiencing sexual abuse. During civil unrest and violent conflicts, women make up an estimated 80 percent of victims. Indeed, the prevalence of violence against women is cited between 16 to 50 percent over the course of a lifetime.
As more research comes to light and there is greater understanding of women’s mental health issues, experts are hopeful that targeted treatments will bring better results and more positive outcomes for women with mental health conditions.
Getting Treatment for a Mental Health Disorder
If you or someone you love is going through the pain of a mental illness, don’t wait to seek treatment. Whatever your reason for waiting – maybe it’s “not the right time” or maybe you feel ashamed or scared – understand that the sooner you get help for a mental health disorder, the sooner you can begin a new life free from the constraints of your illness.