Women and Mental Health
Women make up a little more than half the U.S. population. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and co-workers. We are old and young, healthy and ill, and everything in-between. And, historically, women have received poorer health care than men. This includes mental health care.
The role of gender bias
Some of the difference in the way men and women are treated in health care is related to stereotypes related to the way men and women are viewed. Gender bias – believing one gender is better than the other – is common in medicine. These core beliefs develop throughout a person’s life and are often unconscious. Because most cultures place a higher value on masculinity, gender bias typically affects women, or trans or non-binary people.2 When a person in health care holds a gender bias against women, they may tend to disbelieve symptoms described by women, or feel that a woman’s physical symptoms are caused by a mental health condition. This can lead to under- or overtreating of women. In addition to over or under treatment, gender bias can lead to delayed diagnosis, poor symptom management, and gaps in what doctors know about women and LGBTQ health.2
How is women’s mental health different?
Every year, 1 in 5 American women has a mental health problem. While men and women are affected by many of the same mental health conditions, some are more common in women, and women may experience different symptoms than men do. Still others, such as postpartum depression (depression that occurs after having a baby) affect only women. Some examples of mental health differences are:34
- Depression: Twice as many women as men experience depression at some time in their lives, and 11% of women have had a major depressive episode in the last year. Common times for depression to occur in women are at puberty, during and after pregnancy and during menopause. Life circumstances such as financial hardship and sexual abuse and violence are also factors leading to depression in women.
- PTSD: Women are also twice as likely to experience PTSD. In women, PTSD is often associated with experience of sexual and domestic violence. While men with PTSD often display anger or have problems with alcohol or drugs, women with PTSD are more likely to be hypervigilant or depressed.
- Anxiety: Women are far more likely to seek treatment for symptoms of anxiety. This may be because the male hormone testosterone may have antidepressant and anxiety benefits.
- Suicide: Women attempt suicide more often than men, but men are four times as likely to die by suicide – likely because men choose more violent methods.
- Eating Disorders: Approximately 85%-95% of people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia and 65% of people with binge eating disorder are women. One study found that about 6% of girls use vomiting or laxatives to control their weight.
- Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia occurs at roughly the same amount in women and men, but it often first occurs at a younger age in men.
Mental Health conditions are common and treatable. If you are struggling with your mental health, reach out to your healthcare provider or your EAP. You don’t have to suffer in silence.