Mental health problems affect both men and women equally, but some are more common among women:
- Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression.
- Women are twice as likely to develop general anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and certain phobias than men are.
- Women are twice as likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to men.
Women are more vulnerable to these mental illnesses because of a complicated combination of several risk factors that uniquely stem from their biology, psychology, and tensions between sociocultural roles and personal identities. This is why it is important for women to prioritize their mental health.
#1. Female hormones greatly impact women’s mental health
There are differences in the types and levels of hormones that women and men produce, and these affect our mental health. For example, women’s bodies develop less serotonin — known as a happy hormone — than men’s bodies do, and the former process it slower. Women also produce more stress hormones than men, and the female sex hormone progesterone prevents the stress hormone system from turning itself off as it does in men.
What’s more, women’s hormone levels fluctuate more than men’s do. Before puberty, boys and girls have roughly the same rates of depression. But at the onset of puberty, the incidence of depression increases sharply for girls.
The female hormone estrogen plays a key role in protecting women against mental illness. So when estrogen levels are down — before menstruation and around menopause — women become more susceptible to depression and anxiety. In fact, the incidence of depression shoots up to 16 times in women in their mid-40s to early 50s, which is the time of their menopausal process.
#2. Women’s coping mechanisms make them more prone to depression
A study says that more women than men suffer from depression because “women ruminate more frequently than men, focusing repetitively on their negative emotions and problems rather than engaging in more active problem-solving.” So while men externalize their emotions and act on them, women are more likely to internalize their emotions and withdraw.
#3. Many women grow up lacking validation
When a baby girl is born, many families don’t celebrate as much as when a baby boy is born. Girls don’t receive the same level of importance and are trained to remain quiet and subservient. Being a good girl means being a good listener but silencing her own opinions. So quite often, girls grow up with a sense that they are “second-class citizens” in the family, putting them at greater risk of developing mental illnesses associated with low self-esteem, such as GAD, anorexia, and bulimia.
#4. Many women juggle many roles
Society has conditioned the way we perceive the role of women. Traditionally, women take on the responsibility of constantly looking after the health and well-being of the entire family. This includes their children, partner, parents, and other dependent relatives.
On top of that, women are also expected to take care of all the unpaid and thankless work required to maintain a household. A World Health Organization (WHO) report points out that “the inequity of the division of labor was the most important predictor of depressive symptoms rather than the absolute number of hours worked.”
In the process of trying to fulfill these roles “perfectly” as society requires, women often lose sight of their own identity and needs.
#5. There are many unrealistic demands on women’s physical appearance
Women are conditioned from childhood to strive for "perfect" bodies. That’s why many girls as young as seven believe that they are valued more for their appearance than for their character.
Women are bombarded with images of how they’re “supposed” to look. They’re supposed to stay fit but not “too muscular,” look sexy but not “slutty,” wear makeup but not too much, to have hairless legs and armpits, and many more. They are taught to compare their bodies to other women, and are often subject to body shaming. No wonder women make up 85–95% of all anorexia and bulimia cases.
Though there are many factors that may pose dangers to women’s mental health, they have the power to safeguard themselves against mental illnesses with the help of Meridian Psychiatric Partners, LLC. Our psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists provide specialized mental health services for women in Chicago, Evanston, and Lake Forest. Take charge of your mental health today!