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Focusing on women’s mental health challenges

Posted on 02-22-16 in Mental Health

Focusing on women’s mental health challenges

In 1851, Charles Dickens paid a visit to London’s St. Luke’s Hospital for the Insane. Afterwards, he wrote:

“The experience of this asylum did not differ, I found, from that of similar establishments, in proving that insanity is more prevalent among women than among men. Of the 18,759 inmates St. Luke’s Hospital has received in the century of its existence, 11,162 have been women.”

Mental illnesses affect women and men differently. Yet, scientists are only now beginning to explore the associations of various biological and psychosocial factors to mental health in both women and men.

Comparative statistics

Even though men are more likely to develop substance abuse disorders and antisocial behavioral tendencies, it fails to balance women’s significantly higher rates of almost all common psychological disorders. These include depression, anxiety, sleep problems, sexual problems and eating disorders.

  • Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression
  • Although bipolar disorder is equally common in women and men, research indicates that approximately three times as many women as men experience rapid cycling
  • Women are twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder
  • Women are more likely to have multiple psychiatric disorders
  • Panic disorder is 2.5 times more prevalent among women
  • Women run twice the risk of developing PTSD
  • Women are much more likely than men to develop an eating disorder. Only an estimated 5 to 15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia are males

The National Comorbidity Survey Replication of the general US population found that 9 percent of women and 5 percent of men had experienced depression in the previous year, whereas an overwhelming 23 percent of women suffered from an anxiety disorder as compared to 14 percent of men.

What is the cause?

It has been established that social stresses increase vulnerability to mental illness, and research indicates women’s roles to be particularly demanding. These include factors such as women being paid less, facing greater hurdles in career advancement, managing multiple roles between household and work, and attempting to uphold expectations of “perfection.” Women are also much more likely to experience traumatic incidents such as sexual abuse, which often results in lasting psychological damage.

The Freeman study

Women are up to 40 percent more likely than men to develop mental health conditions, according to new analysis by clinical psychologist, Professor Daniel Freeman, at Oxford University.

According to Freeman’s study, women are approximately 75 percent more likely than men to report having recently suffered from depression, and around 60 percent more likely to report an anxiety disorder.

The result is based on analysis of 12 large-scale epidemiological studies carried out across the world since the 1990s.

“There is a pattern within – women tend to suffer more from what we call ‘internal’ problems like depression or sleep problems,” Freeman said. “They take out problems on themselves, as it were, where men have externalizing problems, where they take things out on their environment, such as alcohol and anger problems.”

“Because mental health problems are extremely prevalent, if you do see an imbalance, it’s an imbalance that concerns millions of people, so it’s a major public health issue.”

There are still many who reject the idea of a higher prevalence of mental illness amongst women. This is why it is important to have this uncomfortable discussion. It is also important to prioritize research that highlights the role gender may play. Sovereign Health Group is always on the forefront of the latest clinical research to help all groups affected by mental illness.

About the author

Sana Ahmed is a staff writer for Sovereign Health Group. A journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at