Mental Health in Women
Each year one in five women in the United States experiences a mental-health issue.
While mental illness can affect anyone, there are distinct ways that women can face mental-health challenges during different seasons of their lives. Some women are at greater risk than others. Risk factors include socioeconomic disadvantage, low social status, abundant caretaking responsibilities, and negative life experiences and events. Particularly, because women are more likely to have experienced domestic and sexual violence than men, they are also more likely to develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Women who have suffered from poverty, hunger, overwork, traumatic violence and abuse also suffer from mental-health issues in greater numbers.
But mental-health concerns are not limited to those women who have faced such hardships in life. Depression in particular is a common challenge for women in all walks of life. Compared to men, twice as many women will experience depression at some point in their lifetimes.
Women and Mental Illness in Mississippi
A statewide report on mental health in Mississippi from 2016 found that 86,113 total people were served that year through community mental-health settings and state hospitals. Of this total number, 52.9 percent were women. This number is more reflective of women dealing with severe mental illness, and considering that mental health issues range in severity, the number of women seeking mental health support in Mississippi is much greater.
Numerous women may find themselves dealing with a mental-health issue at some point in their lives. Those seeking support through private practice or clinical settings are not included in these statistics.
Common mental-health issues among women include:
Suicide attempts: Women are more likely to attempt suicide than men.
Infertility and Miscarriage
Many women dealing with infertility may find themselves experiencing anxiety and sadness in ways that they never have before. For many, the journey to have a child and become a parent is long and arduous, and may lead them towards different paths of exploring fertility treatments or becoming a parent through adoption.
Many women dealing with infertility feel alone and like they are on a journey all by themselves which no one understands. There is grief, but it is not typically validated. For women who already have a child and are dealing with secondary infertility, they might hear well-meaning friends say “at least you have one child.” While this is true, they are dealing with the pain of longing for another child and not becoming pregnant.
Miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week of pregnancy. Miscarriages occur in 10-20 percent of known pregnancies, and yet the actual number may be higher as many miscarriages happen so early in pregnancy that a woman may not know that she is pregnant.
Pregnancy loss through miscarriage represents a significant loss for women (and for men, too). Most miscarriages occur because the fetus is not developing properly; obviously, this is not the fault of the pregnant woman, but it may leave a woman in a vulnerable place trying to process and walk forward through the grief of losing her baby.
Mental-Health Concerns After Childbirth
Being pregnant and having a child is such a significant life change that it can bring on great joy — but also significant difficulties in terms of adjusting to hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and seeking to meet the needs of a little person while also trying to take care of yourself.
In fact, the adjustment to parenting is so great that some women naturally “lose themselves” in the process. It brings on shifts in identity and roles, as well as juggling caretaking responsibilities and the pressure to provide financially for another human being. In the midst of this, 80 percent of new mothers experience some degree of “baby blues” involving hormonal fluctuations and mood swings.
As hormone levels stabilize, symptoms will improve. However, for some women mental health disorders including anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression may surface during the pregnancy or after delivery. In these situations, symptoms last longer and are more intense than typical “baby blues.”
Depression, specifically, can occur in pregnancy as well as post delivery. Depression that is brought on during pregnancy is called prenatal or antepartum depression, and depression after delivery is called postpartum depression. Approximately 15% of women experience some degree of postpartum depression after delivery.
Mental-Health Concerns in Menopause
Menopause typically begins for women around age 50, and symptoms may be experienced for up to five years. It is a natural life stage brought on by significant hormonal drops in the bodily production of estrogen and progesterone. Irritability and mood swings are classic symptoms of menopause, as well as physical symptoms including vaginal dryness, breast tenderness, hot flashes, sweating, and trouble sleeping.
In addition to physical symptoms related to menopause, this life stage may involve contributing stressors such as raising teenagers, children leaving home, losing parents or other loved ones, and worrying about getting older.
While this stage of life is natural and universal for women, it can be difficult to walk through, as irritability and mood swings tend to wreak havoc on feelings of well-being and peace. For some women, particularly women with a history of mental illness, the menopause experience makes them more vulnerable to additional mental health issues.
Anxiety and depression, in particular, may be triggered by menopause. In fact, women are two to four times more likely to have an episode of major depression during menopause compared to other seasons of life. In addition, while women may experience depression at any point in their lives, those with a history of recurrent depression are 4.5 times more likely to experience depression again at the start of menopause.
The good news is that menopause symptoms may be treated and lightened, so that you are in a place of optimal functioning.
Mental-Health Concerns as Women Age
While every woman has a different path and life story, we all are faced with the task of walking forward even in the midst of challenges, grief and pain. Aging is exactly that: Walking forward in the midst of the unknown and difficulties surrounding each individual woman.
As women age, they may absorb more caretaking responsibilities for a parent, spouse, or another loved one. They may experience the grief of losing friends and family members. They may face physical illness themselves or in someone they love. They may experience financial stressors of funding retirement and paying for care.
While aging is a difficult process and one that involves loss and pain and feeling emotions that accompany those life circumstances, it’s important to remain aware of your mental health as you age. In this way, keep a pulse on your physical, mental and emotional functioning. Even if in a hard place, do you still have hope? Is your functioning being affected? How are you sleeping and how is your appetite?
At any life stage, and especially as one ages, it is easy to become isolated. You may live alone and truly feel alone. Reaching out for social support and specifically for mental-health support may be immensely helpful as you seek to walk through the aging process with more peace and grace.
If You Are Facing Mental-Health Concerns
Mental health issues in women are real, and yet women do not have to be stuck in a place that feels hopeless and despairing. In fact, there are resources for support available to you.
In the midst of reaching out for help, consider these basic protective factors. Having a support system from family, friends, and healthcare providers including a trusted counselor is one of the most significant ways you can advocate for your mental health. In addition, remember that you have a voice and some autonomy to make choices despite what is going on in your life currently or what trauma you have experienced.
Use your voice to choose to take care of yourself. In making one choice at a time, choose to hope and to walk forward. In doing this, you work to put mental-health issues in their place instead of giving them all the power over you.
Explore Self-Assessment Guides from Right Track Medical Group
Resources on Mental Health in Women
Common Mental Health Issues in Women: Everyday Health: https://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/mental-health-issues-in-women.aspx
Certain mental health disorders are more prevalent in women. Learn the reasons behind these gender differences and how you can protect your emotional well-being.
Depression During Pregnancy & Postpartum: Postpartum Support International: https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/pregnancy-postpartum-mental-health/
Learn more about depression during and after pregnancy and answers to common questions related to postpartum depression.
Does Childbirth Cause Psychiatric Disorders?: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4250401/
This study examines the extent to which childbirth causes psychiatric episodes and whether a planned pregnancy reduces the risk of postpartum psychiatric episodes.
Gender and women's mental health: https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/genderwomen/en/
Learn more about the prevalence of mental illness in women.
Good mental health at every age: Office on Women’s Health: https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/good-mental-health/good-mental-health-every-age
A resource provided by the United States Government, this guide provides information on the development of women’s mental health at every age and helps women identify what they can do to support good mental health.
Menopausal mood swings can signal more serious mental illness: Medical Press: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-04-menopausal-mood-mental-illness.html
This article explains details a connection between menopause and mental illness.
Miscarriage: Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pregnancy-loss-miscarriage/symptoms-causes/syc-20354298
This guide provided by the Mayo Clinic details information on miscarriage including symptoms and causes and diagnosis and treatment.
Mississippi 2016 Mental Health National Outcome Measures (NOMS): https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/Mississippi-2016.pdf
This data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration details Mississippi state funded mental health resources.
Pregnancy and Postpartum Disorders: https://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/pregnancy-and-postpartum-disorders
This guide by Mental Health America explains postpartum depression including contributing factors and information on how postpartum depression can contribute to other mental illnesses such as birth related PTSD.
Women’s Mental Health: https://www.psychiatry.org/.../Mental-Health.../Mental-Health-Facts-for-Women.pdf
Provided by the American Psychiatric Association, this fact sheet details information related to women’s mental health.