Stress, anxiety, depression is caused when we are living to please others – Paulo Coelho
Mental health problems are more frequent in women than in men. Prevalence, influencing and risk factors, symptomatology, and course of the disorder is different in women than in men. For example, mood or anxiety disorders are more common in women but they are affected by schizophrenic psychoses later in life.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression happen only to women. And certain mental disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia though common to both men and women are experienced differently and progress differently in women.
The differences are in the:
- clinical features
- course of the disorder
- age of onset of symptoms
- frequency of psychotic symptoms,
- social adjustment,
- long-term outcome of severe mental disorders
Biological differences and psychosocial factors make women more vulnerable than men to mental disorders.
- Women’s monthly and life-span fluctuations of sex hormones oestradiol and progesterone because of mensuration, pregnancy, childbirth, perimenopause, and menopause, and weaker blunted hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis response to stress, are the biological factors. These cause women to to react more emotionally and become more emotionally exhausted.
- Female hormones estrogen and progesterone affect mood, stress, and cognition. These hormones also affect the risk of developing fear and anxiety, and risk of drug and alcohol use.
- Gender inequality and discrimination, body shame, violence, sexual abuse, and lower self-esteem are a few of the psychosocial factors.
- Long term outcome of disorders is poorer in women because they internalize the disorder. Whereas men externalize it.
The main risk factors for developing disorders are:
- Heredity, that is family history of mental health problems
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Chronic condition such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, cancer, or brain-related illness such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- And, in women, complications during pregnancy or birth.
Symptoms of mental disorders are the same in men and women. A few of the symptoms are:
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Excessive fear or worry
- Extremely high and low moods
- Seeing or hearing things that are not there
- Persistent sadness or feelings of hopelessness
- Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- Aches, headaches, or digestive problems without a clear cause
- Social withdrawal
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Suicidal thoughts
How to cope with mental disorders
- Connect with family and friends. Share happiness, laughs, stories. Be socially active. Participate in community activities.
- Be active, physically, and mentally. Do moderate physical exercise. Exercise your mind, crossword puzzles, Sudoku games, jigsaw puzzles, read variety of books, learn a new skill, train your brain using books and online programs for brain training.
- Switch off smartphones and computers and other devices that interrupt your interaction with real people.
- Spend time with nature, woods, beaches, lakes, rivers. Or just explore your neighbourhood, parks, streets, people.
- Be in the sunlight for twenty-thirty minutes every day. It improves your Vitamin D which is known to elevate mood.
- Travel, even if short trips.
- Include brain healthy food such as fatty fish. Blueberries, turmeric, broccoli, pumpkin seeds. dark chocolate, nuts, in your diet.
- Reduce or avoid alcohol and sugary colas and drinks.
- Have decent quality sleep for eight-ten hours a day.
- Listen to soothing music
- It is the best medicine. It heals your past and empowers your future.
- Practice Yoga poises (Utthan, Salamba Bhujangasana, Uttanasana and other) and pranayama (Ujjayi breath), and meditation that help relax the mind
- Do not hesitate to seek professional help if required.
Incidence of mental disorders in women
In the US:
- women are twice as likely as men to be affected by unipolar depression, which is estimated to be the second most common source of “global disability burden.”
- women are twice as likely as men to be impacted by Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
- women are twice as likely as men to get depression.
- women are almost ten times more likely than men to be affected by an eating disorder
- the prevalence of serious mental illness is almost 70% greater in women than in men.
- exposure to violence makes a woman three to four times more likely to be affected by depression.
- women may be less likely than men to seek treatment after experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Because of “internalized or self-stigma” that results from their self-image being formed by how others perceive them.
In India, depression and anxiety in women is twice as much as in men and affects twenty-five per cent of women. And two-thirds of married women in India were victims of domestic violence, and thus more prone to mental disorders.
Incidence of Common mental Disorders (CMD) such as anxiety or depression is higher in women than in men. Twenty percent women experience CMD as compared to twelve percent men. The reasons for this are biological factors and other causes such as infertility and perinatal loss, violence, unemployment, poverty, discrimination, and isolation.
Mental health is a prerequisite not only for a long life but also for a better quality of life. Mental disorders among women are on the rise. Also, women get less mental health care than men. A greater awareness of these facts is needed so corrective measures are taken.
As for women, they must know that the brain is a body part though we know less about it. That mental health is not a destination but a process. That they must never give up. That to have power over the disorder demands that they go on strongly despite the fear, because it is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. And finally, that they must not struggle in silence. They must speak out. Seek help.