An Insider's Guide to Women and Mental Health

Women are the mothers, the sisters and the daughters who prove time and again that nothing is impossible. Many women have overcome physical as well as mental obstacles, not letting anything weigh them down. But the process is sometimes overwhelming. Women also face challenges and psychological distress. Some studies have shown that mental disorders affect women and men differently. Let’s have a look at how different facets influence a woman’s mental health. We will discuss three major factors that contribute to a woman’s mental health and functioning; 

  • The Biology
  • The Psychology
  • The Society

The Biology 

Hormones play a vital role in mental disorders. It is important to note how hormonal changes influence our bodies. Hormones also may lead to some women experiencing certain mental disorders as it leads to changes in emotions thereby affecting their moods. 

Some hormones like progesterone and oestrogen influence a woman’s overall health, energy levels, mood, weight and more. Hormones are regulated and dependent on balance and consistency. Hormonal fluctuations contribute to major issues like sleep disturbances, irregularity in appetite as well as metabolism, most often leading to an  imbalance in the body’s equilibrium also called homeostasis

Deficiency in certain hormones may lead to one feeling depressed, difficulties in concentration and focus, memory issues, as well as a state of confusion.

The brain sends out certain signals that instruct our body’s glands to produce and release hormones, and hormones from within the body send messages back to the brain that affects the activity. Most often hormonal changes are noted in women as studies have shown that women are more sensitive to hormonal fluctuations as they experience more hormonal events like menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.

The Psychology

The psychology behind women and mental disorders has been a part of many studies. Apart from the biological aspects, there are other elements that contribute to the fact that women have different mental health concerns. For example, some studies have shown that women are more sensitive to certain emotional cues. Yet, another study states that women have a higher tendency to internalize disorders when compared to men.  

Recent research has confirmed that there are certain differences between how men and women undergo mental health concerns. Differences in various facets like the risks involved, the prevalence of the disorder, how it presents itself, the course and treatment of its manifestation also vary. 

The below image shows how women and men were diagnosed with different disorders. Women range higher under anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobia, post – traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and  major depressive disorder. 

Another aspect to be considered is that women have different coping styles when compared to men. They cope based on their subjective strengths while also keeping in the mind their vulnerabilities. Women also are intuitive about their mental health concerns than men, therefore they are likely to report their health concerns to a general practitioner. However, in cases of domestic violence, physical abuse or even mental abuse, there tend to be fewer reports. 

A research study at Yale University, Connecticut was based on the issues related to mental health. They found that there were certain differences in brain development in women which gave insight into treating and preventing depression and bipolar disorder.

The study also found that oestrogen plays a major role in influencing a woman’s memory, behavior, cognition and emotion. They also concluded that the way women process moods and how they process their memory contributes to their habit or addiction to smoking and also that specific genes play a vital role in women becoming alcoholics. 

There are some general signs to be kept in mind to identify if you have a mental illness, irrespective of your gender. Some of them are as follows:

  • Difficulty functioning in everyday life –  your routine is haywire. You experience disturbances in sleep and appetite. You feel lethargic and you don’t feel like doing anything and those deadlines are stressing you out!
  • Change in Mood – mood swings that make you feel happy in the morning but by noon your mood changes to anger and it’s not because you’re “hangry”! Sometimes you don’t even know why you feel sad or sleepy. There may be times when you may feel like deep cleaning your house due to all this new found energy!  
  • Cognitive impairments – you feel overwhelmed by emotions or confused by certain thoughts that you find it extremely difficult to focus on your work. You forget about your appointments or forget to meet a friend. You make half a shepherd’s pie and half an english trifle like Rachel from the show Friends did! 
  • Risky behaviour – if you’ve watched confessions of a shopaholic, then you know the struggle that Rebecca Bloomwood went through! If you feel like you’re a shopaholic, or feel that you’re drinking every other night just to sleep, then you know that you’re being impulsive! 
  • Break in reality – not feeling like Walter Mitty and zoning out. You’re not mindfully present in the current moment but are living in the past or future.

These are just a couple of pointers. Reach out to a mental health professional if you experience one or more of the above signs or if you have any other symptoms.  

The Society

Our culture and society play an important role in moulding the identity of a woman. Women have been conditioned to a role from childhood, a role that involves constant adjustments and compromises. Women have been conditioned to being multitaskers and detail-oriented. They try to manage household responsibilities and try to meet professional deadlines, making them prone to stress. Women are the primary caregivers which is also a vital contributor to stress. Most women are unaware that the stress they experience may be due to a physical or mental health concern. 

Irrespective of gender equality, women still face challenges when it comes to status, socio-economic power, position and a constant need of dependence defined by the role they play, whether personal or in professional relationships. There is also a lack of awareness about mental health issues, various treatment options available. Many places still have a stigma attached to the world of mental health and the lack of a support system is why women still experience mental health issues that go unnoticed. 

Mental Health is an important facet of our life. We give undue importance to our physical health by meeting a doctor. We take medication to overcome our ailments,we also need to seek out appropriate help with regard to our mental health concerns.

Talking to a mental health professional may help take care of your mental well being. Break the cycle and reach out!