According to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 29 million American women (23% of the female population) have experienced a diagnosable mental health-related disorder in the last year alone. These are just the known instances. Experts say that millions of other cases may go unreported, and therefore untreated.
Men experience higher rates of autism, early onset schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, and alcoholism. The more common issues for women are:
- Depression – While 6% of men get depression, 12% of women get depression
- Anxiety and specific phobias – Women are twice as likely as men to have panic disorder, generalized anxiety, and specific phobias
- Post-traumatic stress disorder – Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD following a traumatic event
- Suicide attempts – While men die from suicide at 4 times the rate women do, women attempt suicide 2 or 3 times more often than men
- Eating disorders – Women account for at least 85% of all anorexia and bulimia cases and 65% of binge-eating disorder cases.
There could be biological reasons for the differences between genders; while estrogen can have positive effects on the brain, women tend to produce less serotonin – a mood stabilizer – than men, and also synthesize it more slowly than men, all of which could lead to the higher rates of depression in women. Women also can experience depression at times of hormone changes, such as postpartum depression after giving birth, premenstrual dysphoric disorder around the time of their period, or menopause related depression.
There might also be cultural influences that explain the differences: young girls being dissatisfied with their bodies, girls being sexually abused more often than boys, women still not having the same economic status as men, and the fact that 1 in 5 women will experience rape or attempted rape all lead to depression in women.
Previously there weren’t many distinctions made between genders when it came to mental health, but recently there have been government mandates which have encouraged both federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, and private organizations to respond to the need for separate research for women’s mental health. Some of the current research involves differences in brain development that may impact how we treat and prevent depression and bipolar disorder; mood and memory processes that may make it harder for women to quit smoking; effects of estrogen on memory, behavior, cognition, and emotion; how estrogen seems to increase rates of PTSD and depression; and genetics specific to women that may contribute to alcoholism.
Warning signs for depression in women include:
- Persistent sadness or feelings of hopelessness
- Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Excessive fear or worry
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
- Extremely high and low moods
- Aches, headaches, or digestive problems without a clear cause
- Social withdrawal
- Thoughts of suicide
There are many options if you, or someone you know, is suffering from any mental health conditions. You can go to your doctor or visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s website https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml. If you or anyone else needs immediate help you can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.