Mental health is a commonly discussed topic now and is gradually losing its stigma from previous years. While both of these are drastic improvements in how the world deals with mental health issues, they don’t necessarily make the day-to-day fight against mental disorders any easier. And with several of the most prominent mental health advocates being women, it’s always worthwhile to take a closer look at how mental illness affects women in particular.

Men and women are both vulnerable to mental illnesses, but they affect women in slightly different ways. Here are several of the most important things you should know about women’s #mentalhealth #MainStreetMedicalClinic Click To Tweet

How Mental Disorders Affect Women

Mental illnesses affect both genders with unfortunate frequency, but any mental health professional will agree that certain disorders or symptoms are more common in women. Therefore, treatments and research must be approached from this point of view. Here are a few key facts related to women’s mental health that are necessary for anyone to know and understand.

  1. Women are more prone to depression
  2. Some mental disorders are unique to women
  3. Symptoms can differ between men and women
  4. Women are more likely to discuss their mental health with a primary care physician

1) Women Are More Prone to Depression

For reasons that still aren’t fully understood, women are more likely to develop depression or to experience symptoms of depression. According to the World Health Organization, severe depression is identified in women twice as often as in men. While this obviously doesn’t mean that every woman will experience clinical depression, it does mean women are at a higher risk to develop this mental illness, especially during or after puberty.

2) Some Mental Disorders are Unique to Women

Certain types of mental disorders, especially subsets of depression, are specifically triggered by female hormones or experiences. A few examples of depression exclusive to women include:

  • Perinatal depression, which encompasses prenatal depression (during pregnancy) and postpartum depression (after giving birth)
  • Perimenopausal depression, triggered by a fluctuation in hormones and bodily functions prior to menopause
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a magnified version of the relatively mild emotional and hormonal fluctuations (premenstrual syndrome, or PMS) that typically occur before a menstrual cycle

Few doctors will argue that menstruation and hormones such as estrogen are likely part of the cause for the higher rate of depression among women. However, scientific research has yet to find a definitive cause that can be easily articulated.

3) Symptoms Can Differ Between Men and Women

Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and similar mental disorders can and do affect both men and women at relatively equal rates. However, symptoms will often differ between men and women, just as between individuals. Women should be on the lookout for the following symptoms:

  • Sudden and significant changes in appetite or sleeping
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Unreasonable worry, fear, or paranoia
  • Ongoing feelings of hopelessness and/or sadness
  • Wild mood swings
  • Physical discomfort (headaches, abdominal pain, etc.) with no clear cause
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions (if you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions, please contact a suicide hotline immediately)

While many of these symptoms are observable in both genders, women may notice them more frequently or with a higher intensity. If you notice several of these symptoms consistently in yourself, talk to a doctor as soon as possible.

4) Women Are More Likely to Discuss Their Mental Health with a Primary Care Physician

If a woman seeks medical help for depression, anxiety, or other mental struggles, she’s more likely to talk to her primary care physician about the problem. (Meanwhile, men are more likely to seek out a specialist’s help first.) This could be due to the trust built up between a patient and primary care physician over time. Unfortunately, the gender disparity is a bit of a two-edged sword. On the one hand, women’s tendency to disclose mental health struggles to a primary care doctor does give the doctor a more complete picture of the patient’s overall health and can lead to an excellent referral. This is especially beneficial since women are more likely to experience depression and require professional help. On the other hand, women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than male patients, even if they score similarly on mental health tests. This can be problematic and could mean that a woman who is largely mentally healthy could receive a false diagnosis while a man’s symptoms might be more easily disregarded.

Pro Tip: When you talk with your doctor about your mental health, remember to be your own advocate. The doctor has your best interests in mind but needs information and input from you to get the complete picture.

Focus on Women’s Mental Health

Even with recent progress, mental health struggles of any kind are immensely challenging for people to confront and work through in a healthy manner. That’s why it’s so important for anyone struggling with mental illness to be informed about what they’re experiencing and why. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for any further help you may need.

Join the conversation to learn more about women’s mental health and how you can manage your own stability.