Mental health issues are a challenge for both men and women. But, statistically speaking, women tend to develop psychological disorders at higher rates than men.
For their book, The Stressed Sex: Uncovering the Truth About Men, Women and Mental Health, Oxford Professor of Clinical Psychology Daniel Freeman, PhD, and his brother, Jason Freeman, researched 12 large-scale medical studies from around the globe. They found that women were 20 to 40 percent more likely to report mental health issues in any given year.
“Women tend to have higher rates of depression, panic disorder, phobias, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders and men have higher rates of alcohol, drug, and anger problems … In the current environment, women are bearing the brunt of mental health problems.” 1
That left them curious. Why?
It would appear that a variety of biological and cultural factors are at play. For one thing, a woman’s hormone levels are constantly changing. Think menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Add to that an ever-increasing load of responsibilities at home and work — i.e., stress. And then pile on the lingering inequalities and cultural pressures that still hold women back around the world.
Here are some of the key ways in which women’s mental health issues differ from men’s:
The Biological Factors
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) outlines three distinct types of hormone-related conditions that can affect women. 2
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): This disorder is more than normal menstrual moodiness. PMDD can debilitate women with heightened symptoms such as suicidal thoughts, anger and a depressed mood. Often, these will seriously disrupt a woman’s daily life.
- Perinatal depression: Again, this is more than just feeling down about gaining weight or caring for a new baby. It includes the period both during pregnancy and after (known as postpartum). This is a persistent, all-encompassing depression that turns everyday tasks into a struggle. Women who’ve experienced miscarriage may also have these symptoms.
- Perimenopausal depression: Usually during a woman’s 40s and 50s she experiences symptoms such as irritability and hot flashes at the onset of menopause. But, says the NIMH, feeling unusually depressed should not be a regular symptom and can signal a more serious cause.
The Cultural Factors
In addition to biological factors, it’s no surprise that stress and inequality play a major role in the rates at which women experience mental health issues. In their article for Psychology Today, Daniel and Jason Freeman explain how societal pressures can unfairly harm women.
“Increasingly, women are expected to function as carer, homemaker, and breadwinner—all while being perfectly shaped and impeccably dressed. Given that domestic work is undervalued, and considering that women tend to be paid less, find it harder to advance in a career, have to juggle multiple roles, and are bombarded with images of apparent female ‘perfection,’ it would be surprising if there weren’t some emotional cost.” 1
This pressure to look and act perfect can lead women to develop conditions like eating disorders, anxiety and panic disorders. The World Health Organization goes on to identify other risk factors that affect women more often than men.
“Gender-specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include gender-based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and rank, and unremitting responsibility for the care of others.”3
In other words, women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape, which can lead to issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Plus, women are often taught to internalize their trauma, rather than face the cultural stigma associated with speaking up.
While biology and culture may pose a greater risk for women developing certain mental health issues, that doesn’t mean women have to live with them. If you’re a woman who’s experiencing any of these symptoms or disorders, there’s hope.
The best way to help yourself—or a friend or family member who’s suffering—is to seek guidance from a trusted professional who understands the issues uniquely affecting women.
Valley Hospital is the first facility in the Phoenix area to create specialized treatment programs just for women. From postpartum depression to infertility struggles to relationship issues, Valley Hospital has compassionate experts who can help you understand emotional wounds and develop coping skills.
Let us help you find the path to feeling like yourself again.
1 Daniel Freeman, Ph.D. and Jason Freeman. “The Stressed Sex: Are Rates of Psychological Disorder Different for Men and Women?” Psychology Today. June 5, 2013.
2 “Depression in Women: 5 Things You Should Know.” National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed August 2017.
3 “Gender and Women’s Mental Health.” World Health Organization. Accessed August 2017.Share