By Patti Richards

Women tend to put the needs of others ahead of their own even when it concerns emotional wellness. Women are unusually adept at coping, and the need to push through is often more important than getting answers. The World Health Organization reports some staggering statistics describing the state of women’s mental health around the world:

  • Depressive disorders account for close to 41.9 percent of the neuropsychiatric disorders among women.
  • Leading mental health problems of older adults are depression, organic brain syndromes and dementias. A majority are women.
  • Of the 50 million people affected by violent conflicts, civil wars, disasters and displacement, an estimated 80 percent are women and children.
  • Lifetime prevalence rate of violence against women ranges from 16 to 50 percent.
  • At least one in five women has suffered rape or attempted rape in their lifetime.1

Of the high percentage of women who struggle with some sort of mental illness, many do not get treatment.

Signs of Struggle

In Jamie M.’s Heroes in Recovery story, she writes of a suppressed trauma that led to her own struggle with mental health issues. . .

“I was hit by (a strong memory of) my trauma in an unexpected flashback when I went into a large retail store one random day. Even today, I don’t even know what triggered it, but I remember that I dropped what I was holding and kept walking in the store until I found a quiet corner, where I called a friend of mine for help.

For most of my life, if anyone would have ever asked me if I were struggling with anything emotional or mental-health related, I would have said that I was not. All of the trauma, all of the emotions, were tucked away for over 25 years and stored in a place with the intention that they never show up again.”2

Fortunately for Jamie, close friends recommended she see a therapist. And that’s when her journey to healing began.

“I went to group therapy first and one of the facilitators recommended individual therapy to discover the root of my trauma and abuse and find a way to go through it.

It took about a year and a half before I felt leveled-out and stable in my therapy. You can’t expect to go to a couple sessions talk about a serious trauma and be healed and ready to go again. There is no magic wand a therapist can wave above your head. And even today, as my life progressed and is now pretty normal, I still experience occasional difficult times that are helped by some therapy.” 3

Jamie’s friends recognized the need for help based on her behaviors and state of mind. Understanding the types, signs and symptoms of mental illnesses most common in women can help you or a loved one get appropriate treatment.

Types and Symptoms

Although 1 in 5 American adults experience some sort of mental illness during a lifetime, studies show men and women have unique struggles related to mental health.4 According to the National Institute of Mental Health, this may be due in part to the hormonal changes a woman experiences throughout her lifetime.5 The following four types of mental illness are the most common among women:

  • Depression is twice as likely to affect women as it does men. The four most common types of depression in women are major depression, persistent depressive disorder, postpartum depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.6
  • Anxiety is also twice as likely to affect women. It is the feeling of worry, nervousness and fear about an event or situation. Although normal anxiety helps you stay alert and focused, extreme anxiety can make functioning on a daily basis almost impossible. Physical symptoms of anxiety can include weakness, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, upset stomach, hot flashes and dizziness.7
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often follows a traumatic event. As with other forms of mental illness, women are generally at higher risk of developing symptoms than men. This especially true if there is a history of depression or sexual assault, or if an injury is associated with the trauma.8
  • Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors relating to weight, body image and food. There are three basic types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.9

Female-specific Treatment

Women struggling with mental illness often find female-specific treatment to be the right choice. Female-specific treatment addresses the needs unique to women in appropriate ways. Women tend to feel less comfortable with the transparency that is necessary for healing with those of the opposite gender. Women are also more likely to open up to other women experiencing the same kinds of struggles, especially as they relate to childbirth, infertility and hormonal fluctuations at various stages of a woman’s life. Discussing these issues with people who understand makes group interaction feel less threatening. The different communication styles of men and women also make female-specific treatment programs more attractive for many women. Just knowing that those around you hear what you are trying to say can make all the difference.

Finding Help for Mental Illness

If you or a loved one struggles with mental illness, Valley Hospital can help. We have residential and outpatient treatment programs specifically designed to meet the unique needs of women. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours.

1Gender and women’s mental health.” WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2017.

2 M., Jamie. “Trauma – Heroes in Recovery – Celebrating Recovery and the Heroic Journey.” Heroes in Recovery. N.p., 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2017.

3 M., Jamie. “Trauma – Heroes in Recovery – Celebrating Recovery and the Heroic Journey.” Heroes in Recovery. N.p., 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2017.

4 “Patz, Aviva. “Mental Health Issues That Are More Common In Women.” Prevention. N.p., 02 Sept. 2016. Web. 07 Aug. 2017.

5Women and Mental Health.” National Institute of Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, July 2016. Web. 07 Aug. 2017.

6 Gregory, Christina , PhD. “Depression in Women: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2017.

7Anxiety disorders.” N.p., 12 June 2017. Web. 07 Aug. 2017.

8PTSD: National Center for PTSD.” Women, Trauma and PTSD – PTSD: National Center for PTSD. N.p., 01 Jan. 2007. Web. 07 Aug. 2017.

9Types & Symptoms of Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2017.