Mental Illness and Women

Studies have indicated the more than 50 million people in the US suffer from some form of mental illness.  While mental health issues can effect anyone of any age, any race, or any gender, there are a few mental health issues that occur more often in women.  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 23.8 percent of women in the US have experienced a diagnosable mental illness compared to 15.6 percent of men.

There may be some scientific reasons why women tend to be more susceptible to mental illness than men are.  Some studies have shown that biological elements related to gender can play a role in the development of mental illness.  Women have lower serotonin levels than men do, and they process serotonin at a slower rate.  This contributes to mood fluctuations.  Hormonal fluctuations are more common in women and men as well.  Both the lower levels of serotonin and the common fluctuations in hormones could be a key development in some mental health issues.

Most Common Mental Illnesses among Women

1. Depression and Depressive Illnesses

Depression is characterized by a feeling of overwhelming sadness or melancholy. Other symptoms can include extreme fatigue, loss of interested in formerly enjoyable activities, a sense of worthlessness or hopelessness, and changes in appetite and energy level. Depression can be episodic with bouts that last hours, days, weeks, or longer.  It can also be chronic where the feeling never goes away.

Women are twice as likely as men to experience depression and other depressive disorders such as bipolar disorder.  Women who suffer from depression are also more likely to turn to drug or alcohol for relief.  When a woman makes the choice to get treatment for the alcohol or drug abuse, she will likely need to be treated for the co-occurring disorders in order to really begin to heal.

2. Panic Disorders

Of the wide breadth of panic disorders out there, women are more likely to experience generalized anxiety disorder and specific kinds of phobias.  It is estimated that 4 million people in the US suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, and women are twice as likely to develop a generalized anxiety disorder as men are.  Episodes of anxiety or anxiety or panic attacks can last a few minutes or a few hours.  While some with generalized anxiety disorder experience constant mild to moderate feelings of anger, tension, and worry, anxiety or panic attacks often come with overwhelming sense of these feelings.

3. Eating Disorders

Studies indicate that while there are many men who have eating disorders, women make up 75 percent of the people being treated for eating disorders in the US.  Eating disorders are considered a mental illness because many of the factors that contribute to eating disorder development are mental or psychological.  Issues such as low self-esteem, negative body image, and feeling out of control of one’s life can all contribute to the development of an eating disorder.  According to Everyday Health, approximately 65 percent of binge eating disorder cases and 85 percent of bulimia cases are women.

Other Factors that Contribute to Mental Illnesses in Women

There are other issues besides gender and biology that can lead to the increased likelihood that that a woman will develop a mental illness.

From a historically cultural standpoint, women have had the subordinate role for much of history.  Since the beginning, women have been placed in the role of the keeper of the house and the primary caregiver of aging relatives and young children.  As our culture has shifted, more and more women are taking on the roles of primary breadwinner having more powerful and demanding careers and work outside the home.  Many women still struggle with leaving behind the more traditional roles, and many more women try to do it all.  The stress of dealing with everything that comes with being the head of a household, the primary caregiver, and having a demanding career can lead women to panic attacks and depression.

Also throughout history, our culture has done much to sexualize and objectify women in the media.  The media is usually a good example of how women are perceived in a culture.  The frequent perception that women are purely sexual beings who should look as they do in the media and behave as they do in the media can lead to the development of low self-esteem and a poor self-image among females leading to eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.  These ideas of women also perpetuate the attitude that rape and sexual violence are acceptable behaviors.  This can all lead to increased drug or alcohol use and mental illness for women.

All of Your Questions about Dual Diagnosis Answered

Dual diagnosis is a term that is tossed around in the mental illness and substance addiction community quite a lot. You may have come across it in passing and wondered what it is all about.  Today, we will clear up some of the mystery for you and answer some of the questions you have regarding dual diagnosis.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

As far as addiction and mental illness are concerned, dual diagnosis is a relatively new innovation.  Until the 90s, people who showed symptoms of both drug addiction and mental illness were treated for these two things separately.  This kind of thinking usually came down to the person in question not receiving proper treatment for his or her mental illness until the addiction was under control.  As we know now, many addictions the result of someone who is experiencing a mental illness trying to self-medicate.  Often, patients would get the help they needed for the addiction but not for the mental illness which would lead them back to addiction.  It was this pattern that lead doctors and researchers to dual diagnosis treatment where patients who show symptoms of an addiction and an underlying mental disorder are treated for both at the same time.

How Does Dual Diagnosis Treatment Work

Treatment for dual diagnosis takes the most useful and most successful parts of substance abuse treatment and mental illness treatment and combines them to treat a patient with both problems.  The conditions should be treated in tandem by one counselor or set of counselors who are trained in dealing with co-occurring disorders.  The difficulty with this is that very few counselors are trained in co-occurring disorders.  According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, only about 12 percent of the people in the US who suffer from dual diagnosis actually receive treatment for both disorders.  About 4 million American people are diagnosed with co-occurring disorders.

How Can I Tell if Someone I Know Should Get Help for a Dual Diagnosis

Chances are that you might suspect the person in question of having either an addiction or a mental illness.  There is no really good way for the layperson to tell if someone needs help for co-occurring disorders.  Some of the symptoms of someone being an addict are things like suddenly abandoning friends and family for a new group, uncharacteristically reckless behavior, defensiveness when asked questions about where he or she is going or what he or she is doing, lying, and stealing.

Mental illness symptoms are much more difficult to group because they are very different depending upon the type of mental illness experienced.  Some mental illnesses come with hallucinations or delusions.  Some mental illnesses like depression are characterized by overwhelming sadness and despair.  They may have complex rituals and exacting standards when it comes to cleanliness.  Many people with mental illnesses have dramatic swings in moods and energy levels.  Dual diagnosis can only really be sorted out when the person experiencing the co-occurring disorders starts to get professional help

What Can I Do to Increase My Chances of Recovery Success?

The best thing that you can do after receiving your dual diagnosis is make sure you are in a treatment program that will treat both your mental health and your addiction.  Your dual diagnosis treatment team will know that sometimes antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antianxiety medications are the answer.  They will provide you with treatment strategies that build your confidence and your self-esteem as well as address the reasons for your addiction and the symptoms of your mental illness.  Some effective dual diagnosis therapies involve the families of the sufferers.  Often, friends and families of the sufferer take part in therapy sessions and education to help the patient and to help themselves heal from this difficult dual diagnosis.

Is There Anything Else to Know About Dual Diagnosis?

There are lots of things to know about dual diagnosis, but one of the most recent studies available claims that one of the best things that a patient with a co-occurring disorder can do to help his or her treatment along is to be active in the treatment.  Patients should participate and give feedback about their treatment rather than taking the passive approach.  This is your life and your disorders.  You will know what your body and mind are happy with and are not happy with.  Follow the advice of your treatment team, but still be active in your treatment. It can make all the difference.

Six Ways to Make the Best of Communal Living: Halfway Houses for Women

If you are very used to living on your own, learning to live in a communal setting can seem daunting.  It brings up images of sororities houses and dormitories and hippie communes.  All of these images may seem overwhelming to someone who have been living alone. But there are ways to make yourself feel better and ways to survive the jungle of communal living with your sanity intact.

Be nice but not too nice

Everyone in a halfway house is likely to be a little bit on edge.  These women are probably all coming out of rehab and just learning how to navigate the world in a real way after becoming clean and sober.  Taking a little time to treat everyone with the care, kindness, and respect that you would like to be treated with will make your halfway house experience a good one.  It is important to be kind and compassionate, but not at the expense of your own treatment and your own well-being.  If you are feeling like your kindness is being taken advantage of, take a step back and reevaluate your situation.  Set some boundaries for yourself and for the other women with whom you live.

Be conscientious about your duties

As one of the conditions of moving into the halfway house, you will probably be assigned some things to do.  These tasks are usually everyday housekeeping things like cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming, cooking meals, washing dishes, and participating in other kinds of household maintenance.  Keep up with your assigned duties.  If you are conscientious most of the time, if you slip up once or twice and do not get your tasks done in a timely manner it is more likely to be forgiven by your housemates.  If you do not keep up on your tasks regularly, you may end up with a big problem with the other people who live with you.  There is little that causes resent as quickly as someone who is not pulling their weight.

Maintain your personal space and the personal space of others

If you have your own rooms, it is important not to violate anyone else’s personal space just as you would not want someone to violate yours.  Knock before going into another woman’s room and do not go into another woman’s room without permission.  If you are sharing a room with another woman, the same is true for her things and your things.  Do not go poking around in her drawers or under her bed even if you are desperate for a nail file, and you know she has one somewhere. It just is not good manners, and it can lead others to believe that you are not to be trusted.

Respect everyone’s differences

You and your housemates are going to be coming from all different places.  You have likely all gone though some recovery treatment, but it may not have been the same kinds of treatment.  You will all have different backgrounds and different stories.  Get to know the women you are living with and get to know their stories.  This might give you some insight into how best to talk to them and deal with them.  You may find that there is something in particular that someone does or does not like that you never would have thought of.

Keep up your determination

You have worked very hard to get to where you are.  There are going to be women who fall off the wagon while you are in the halfway house.  You must hold on to your hope and keep determined and remember why you are working toward living a permanently clean and sober life.

When all else fails, use baked goods

You will never make friends faster than when you bake some kind of amazing treat.  Something as simple as Rice Crispy Treats or Chocolate Chip Cookies can bring you all together to talk and eat and build the community that you would like to have in this halfway situation.

How Service Dogs Are Helping PTSD

Over the years, there have been lots of studies about how dogs are good for people.

Dogs and other kinds of pets can:

  • Keep your blood pressure down
  • Help you fight off depression
  • Make you feel less isolated
  • Enhance your mood
  • Motivate you to exercise
  • Build up your immunity

All of these things that dogs provide their companions with can help people who are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

Veterans and PTSD Care

The particular group that has been recently studied for the effects of PTSD and how dogs can help with it are veterans who are suffering from PTSD after returning from war.  Many of these veterans are particularly susceptible to PTSD.  Many have anxiety related to their war experiences.  They can believe that in every crowd and behind every tree, there is someone or something waiting to harm them in some way.  These are common problems for our returning soldiers.  The transition back to civilian life is difficult and PTSD is very common. Many methods for helping PTSD victims are being explored.

Sometimes for these veterans, medications and traditional therapies prove to not be enough.  The horrors that they experienced have left scars that run deep and are not easily healed.  Studies are being down even now with specially trained dogs who are helping former soldiers make this transition back to civilian life a little easier.  These dogs are helping them feel safe.

How Are Service Dogs Helping PTSD Victims?

There are many tasks that a service dog can help with in order to combat the PTSD in his or her owner.  Service dogs can be trained to:

  • Look around corners and behind barriers to check for potential threats
  • Turn on lights
  • Awake a handler if he or she is having a nightmare
  • Guide his or her owner should the handler become disoriented or confused
  • Locate the family of the handler should they become separated
  • Signal to certain sounds such as smoke alarms
  • Bring help with the appropriate command
  • Remind handlers to take medication or bring emergency medication
  • Identify hallucinations
  • Offer emotional behaviors such as licking, snuggling, or hugging on command

According to Psychology Today, there are many reasons why dogs are the perfect companions for people who suffer from PTSD.  My favorite reason is that dogs give unconditional love.  They will be your best friend forever.  Military people often return home to find that the skills they have learned and have been using for the length of their deployment are not applicable in their home lives.  They find that their skills do not guarantee them anything in the civilian world.  Dogs give handlers love and respect regardless of their skills and regardless of how everyone else reacts toward them.

Because of this potential let-down and because PTSD suffers often have trouble with trusting people, dogs can help them learn to trust again.  Dogs are incredibly trustworthy creatures and will be there for their handlers no matter what.  This can help the handler recognize that the civilian world is much different from the world of war and that, for the most part, danger does not lie around every corner.

One of the best things about dogs that can help PTSD suffers is that dogs are vigilant.  PTSD sufferers know that they are never alone when they have a dog with them.  Often, service dog handlers feel hesitant or unsure about their environments.  Dogs can help provide a secure feeling when handlers are without human companionship.

Since these particular PTSD sufferers come from the military the fact that dogs respond to authority can be very helpful.  Since the military is based entirely on giving and getting orders to which soldiers are expected to respond without questions, returning veterans may find it difficult to transition back into situations where this is not the case.  Most civilians do not operate like that, but dogs do.