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Women and Mental Health: Which Issues Disproportionately Affect Women and Why

womens mental health issues

Millions of people in the United States are living with a mental health disorder. Whether depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or an eating disorder, these conditions can have a substantial, detrimental impact on a person’s life and well-being. Both men and women can develop a mental health disorder, however, more women are affected than men. Additionally, women are more vulnerable to certain mental health disorders than men.

Based on the latest data available, an estimated 7 percent of women were affected by a serious mental illness in 2020, compared with 4 percent of men in the U.S. When considering any and all mental illnesses, including those that have not caused serious functional impairment, the disproportion still exists: 26 percent of women struggled with any mental illness in 2020, versus 16 percent of men. This pattern holds true for adolescents, as well. The lifetime prevalence of mental disorders was higher among females (51 percent) than males (48 percent). 

Additionally, research shows that the pandemic has worsened mental health among women. According to a study from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada:

  • About 25 percent of women reported they were struggling with moderate to severe anxiety, compared to under 18 percent of men.
  • More than 23 percent of women indicated severe feelings of loneliness, compared to just over 17 percent of men.

So, why does this disparity exist? Why are women exceedingly affected by mental health conditions, when compared to their male counterparts?

Why are Women Vulnerable to Mental Illness?

There are many factors that are thought to increase women’s vulnerability to mental health disorders. These factors relate to their biological makeup as well as their specific experiences as women in society. 

From a biological standpoint, research shows that women’s brains are very different than men’s, which could play a role in their susceptibility to certain mental health conditions. Their brain’s anatomy may also cause women and men to experience mental disorders differently. 

For example, due to their brain’s wiring, women report higher levels of empathy and emotional understanding than men. These qualities, while generally positive, are closely tied to worsening depression, anxiety, and trauma. 

Women also have different experiences than men, as they walk through life. In general, women are constantly up against societal expectations and pressures that can negatively impact their mental health. For example, women place great importance on their physical appearance – largely because society tells them to do so. Women are also expected to be empathetic, warm, friendly, and nurturing, which does not come naturally to every woman. It is these qualities, combined with attractiveness, that women often strive for to fit in or feel valued in society today. However, this can cause chronic stress and lead to mental health conditions. 

Additionally, women are also more discriminated against for their gender when compared to men. Whether this translates to inequities in pay, negative comments from others, or gender discrimination as they try to reach their goals, the bias women face can also contribute to heightened mental issues.

Women are also disproportionately affected by physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. They are 4 times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault than the general population. About 1 in every 4 women have experienced intimate partner violence, versus 1 in 9 men. In the United States, over 19 million women have been stalked in their lifetime, versus 5 million men. These statistics only begin to highlight the trauma that women face in our current society. Trauma can have lasting effects on a woman’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

Which Mental Health Disorders More Commonly Affect Women?

As noted above, certain mental health conditions are more common among women than men. Below are some examples of the mental health disorders that affect predominately women today:

  • Anxiety Disorders:

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, with an estimated 40 million adults affected each year. There are different types of anxiety disorders, but in general, women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than men. Specifically, the Office on Women’s Health reports that women are more than twice as likely as men to get an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Anxiety often has detrimental effects on a person’s life, and can lead to hospitalization.

  • Depression:

Depression has long been recognized as one of the leading causes of disability in America, and it is another mental health disorder that affects more women than men. Similar to anxiety, it’s estimated that women are about twice as likely as men to have symptoms of depression. Depression can affect a person’s ability to go to work or school, have relationships with friends and family, as well as maintain healthy sleeping and eating patterns. It can also lead to suicide ideation.

  • Suicide: 

While not explicitly a mental health disorder, attempted suicide also has proven to be more common among women. Specifically, women attempt suicide more often than men. However, men are more likely to die by suicide. However, as McClean Hospital writes, “It’s important to note that just because someone may not be successful in a suicide attempt does not mean that they will not continue to struggle with lifelong complications as a result.”

  • Trauma:

As noted above, women are highly likely to experience sexual abuse in their lifetimes and at greater rates than men. An estimated 20 percent of all women will experience rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives, which increases the risk of a trauma-related mental health issue. For example, women have higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of sexual violence. Overall, McClean Hospital cites that women are twice as likely to experience PTSD as men.

  • Eating Disorders:

Eating disorders are a serious mental health condition that also harm a person’s physical health. Eating disorders are much more common among women, likely due to the pressures that females face to look a certain way in society. National data estimates that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. These may fall under the category of anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating, or another eating disorder, and can have severe effects on a person’s life and health.

Finding Help for Women with Mental Health Issues

The rate of mental health disorders is increasing across America, between the COVID-19 pandemic, inequities facing our communities, sexual violence, assault, and other issues impacting modern society. With this, the rate of mental illness among women is escalating. If you are concerned that your loved one – whether your girlfriend, sister, daughter, or friend – is struggling with their mental health, there are steps you can take to ensure her safety and health.

First, be open about your concerns and create a transparent dialogue about mental health. Additionally, know the signs of mental health disorders in women. Consult with a professional about your concerns, your loved one’s symptoms, and her current situation. This professional may be your family doctor, therapist, counselor, or even a treatment professional. 

Learn how to find and choose a women’s treatment provider here.

You can also contact Turnbridge for assistance and support. Turnbridge is a recognized treatment provider with dedicated programs for women facing mental health and substance abuse issues. You may learn more online, or call 877-581-1793 to speak with us today.