Brain and Mental Health | Nucleus Health
4 Mental Health Issues That Are More Common In Women
Some 10 to 15% of women will experience depression at some point in their lives—double the number of men who will. "Women go through significant biological changes across their lifespan, more so than men, so these cyclic shifts can disrupt, malfunction, or create disease," Serani explains.
Hormonal flux in particular can wreak havoc on women's mental health. "Hormones play a significant role around the time of childbirth, which has resulted in terms like postpartum blues and postpartum depression," says Jared Heathman, MD, a family psychiatrist in Houston, Texas. Women can also develop premenstrual dysphoric disorder. "Symptoms of PMDD are similar to major depressive disorder, so it's likely that some physicians label PMDD as MDD," Heathman says. "Their acronyms are even similar." (See how your hormones mess with you every month.)
Social issues also come into play, as we're raised to internalize our thoughts and feelings, compared to men, who are encouraged to "shake things off" and "tough it out." "We're taught to be mindful about our thoughts and feelings, not to mention our appearance," Serani says. "Internalized styles of coping with distress are linked to greater mental illness."
Then there are environmental or cultural factors, including the fact that women still tend to bear the brunt of the housework and caregiving and maintain the family's social schedule, even if we work outside the home full time, notes Kristin Carpenter, PhD, director of women's behavioral health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "We also tend to earn less than our male counterparts," she adds, "which can cause financial strain that can lead to feeling anxious, depressed, or hopeless." If we're not already overwhelmed with guilt, that is, from being away from our children while working, Heathman notes. This one-two punch of stress and guilt can contribute to or worsen depression.
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Women also live longer than men on average, Heathman adds, so we have more opportunities to experience bereavement and loneliness, which are known contributors to depression.
Depression evenlooksdifferent in women compared to men. "Women typically describe symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation or interest, and frequent crying," says Allison Abrams, LCSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. "On the other hand, most of the depressed male clients I've worked with originally come to see me for issues around anger, a common manifestation of clinical depression in men." At the root of the depression for many of Abrams' clients is low self-esteem, likely from the medley of social and cultural messages we absorb from a young age.
From puberty through age 50, women are more than twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, with its symptoms of increased worrying, tension, exhaustion, and fear.
Again, so many factors come into play—including social and cultural norms and stressors, but how we react to them may be the biggest difference between men and women. That's the key finding of a 2012 study in the American Psychological Association'sJournal of Abnormal Psychology: Men tend to externalize emotions while women tend to internalize them.
Biology plays a role, too, of course, and researchers are increasingly looking at the effects of estradiol, a primary gonadal hormone in women. "It is thought to mediate, or be responsible for, some of the sex differences observed in psychiatric disorders," explains Tamar Gur, MD, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral health, neuroscience, obstetrics, and gynecology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
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Technically post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, a class of issues that also includes panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias and separation anxiety disorder, but it's worth its own mention because women are twice as likely to develop it than men, and about four times as likely to get it chronically, according to Jennifer Wolkin, PhD, a NYC-based licensed clinical health and neuropsychologist.
It's not that women have more traumatic experiences in general, but we do tend to have more of certain types of trauma, such as sexual abuse and assault, which are associated with greater risk for PTSD. How we respond to the ordeal can make a case of PTSD worse. "Compared with male trauma survivors, women tend to react with self-blame, believing that their incompetence led to the trauma," Wolkin explains. On top of that, we'll use coping skills, consciously or unconsciously, that are not helpful—such as mentally disengaging or suppressing the upsetting memories. "This seemingly gender-specific expression of emotional distress post-trauma might explain greater rates of PTSD in women," says Wolkin, who blogs at BrainCurves.
It's also possible that women are more vulnerable to PTSD because we're more likely to have started out with a higher baseline of depression and anxiety, Wolkin adds.
MORE: 10 Silent Signals You're Way Too Stressed
Although eating disorders do afflict some men, they're generally considered women's diseases. "They're often thought of in terms of things generally keyed feminine, such as vanity, self-control, emotionality, and perfectionism," says Rachel Porter, PsyD, CEDS, clinical care advocate at Carolina House, an eating disorder treatment facility, and a board member of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). Anyone who's ever seen a billboard, TV commercial, or women's magazine knows all too well the exponential pressure placed on women to conform to certain standards of thinness and fitness. "Cultural standards for women are heavily geared toward weight, shape, and appearance—and this absolutely impacts women's relationship with food and their body," Porter says. (And eating disorders aren't just a "teen's disease.")
Binge Eating Disorder in particular is the most common type of eating disorder—more prevalent than anorexia and bulimia combined, affecting 2.8 million American adults, according to BEDA. Statistics show that women are twice as likely to have Binge Eating Disorder than men, although it may be partly that men tend to view bingeing as a somewhat normal behavior—"Dude, I ate a whole pizza!"—and not seek help. "For women, bingeing is seen as something to be kept secret, shameful, heavily emotional—and at all costs, something that should be changed," Porter says.
Video: School-Link: Caring for the mental health needs of children and young people
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