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.