How Does Mental Health Affect Women Differently Than Men

Mental disorder can affect men and women in different ways and there are some mental disorders that are unique to women.

There are more than 50 million Americans who suffer from mental illness, and if you're one of them you're not alone. Women are most likely to suffer from certain mental illnesses than men.

The SAMHSA estimates that aproximately 23.8% of American women have experienced a diagnosable mental health disorder. Depression and anxiety are more common in women, and also there are some specific disorders that are unique to women.

A select number of women can experience symptoms of mental disorders during times of hormone change, such as premenstrual dyshpoic disorder, perimenopause related depression, and perinatal depression.

However research studies have not found differences in the rate of which men and women experience symptoms of schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder. There is stil much to learn when it comes to mental illnesses and how certain ones affect each sex differently. Researchers are just begining to pick apart the biological and psychosocial factors in both. 

Mental Illness In Women

Some mental illnesses occur more often in women and can play a significant role in the state of a women's overall health and well being. Men experience higher rates of schizophrenia, antisocial disorder, alcholism, and autism.

Mental health conditons that are found more common in women include:

  • Anxiety and specific phobias: Women are twice as likely to have panic disorder, generalized anxiety, and specific phobias.
  • Suicide attempts: Women attempt suicide 2 to 3 times more often than men.
  • Eating disorders: 85% of anorexia and bulimia cases and 65% of binge-eating disorder cases.
  • Depression: Women are twice as likely as men to get depression.

Symptoms of Mental Illness

Some symptoms of mental disorders can be experienced differently for men and women, but both can develop most of the same mental disorders.

Some symptoms can include but are not limited to: 

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Extremely high or low moods 
  • Irritability 
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Aches and headaches
  • Digestive problems without clear cause
  • Excessive fear or worry
  • Changes in eating habits 
  • Weight gain and/or loss
  • Hearing voices and/or seeing things that are not there
  • Insomnia

Factors That Affect Mental Illness In Women

1. Shift in Our Culture

Even though gender roles have seen a shift in our culture, women taking on more powerful careers and men staying home to take care of the house. There is still a big amount of stress on women which can lead to depression and often times panic attacks and anxiety related symptoms.

2. Negative Sexualization of Women

Also there is frequent negatve sexualization of women which can cause problems with developing healthy self-esteem and self-image. These factors can without a doubt lead to unhealthy self-image and also shame, depression, anxiety, and stress.

3. Violence and Sexual Abuse

Violence and sexual abuse among women is another very important and overlooked factor that can cause a number of problems and mental illnesses to arise. As reported, 1 in 5 women has been a victim of rape and/or attempted rape. And women are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse at an early age.

Gender Differences That Impact Women's Mental Health 

1. Socio-cultural influences

Women face challenges when it comes to socio-economics, power, status, position, and dependence, which contributes to depression and other disorders. Women are still primary caregivers of children, and they also provide 80% of all caregiving for ill elders, which too can add stress to women's lives.

2. Behavioral influences

Women are more prone to report mental health disturbances than men and doctors are more proned to diagnose a woman with depression and to treat the condition with mood-altering drugs. And women are more likely to report mental health problems to a general practitioner, while men discuss them with a mental health specialist.

3. Biological influences

Female hormonal fluctuations are known to play a role in mood and depression. Estrogen can have positive effects on the brain, which protects against some aspects of Alzheimer's. The less positive side is that women tend to produce less serotonin than men.

Research changes on a dime, and we may one day find something explaining why women have higher rates of reported mental illness. But for now, it looks like a number of factors in complex ways to make a woman more vulnerable to mental illness.

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