In many ways, the fight for equality between men and women has been largely a success, despite much more work needed to be done. While women still aren’t always treated with the respect they deserve in certain scenarios, such as at work or even in healthcare, they’ve made incredible progress when compared to just a few decades ago. However, there is one setting where women and men are not equal, and that’s in the realm of mental disorders.
According to research published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Abnormal Psychology, mental illness affects both sexes differently, and women are more predisposed to specific types. While men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues such as substance abuse disorder (SUD) or antisocial types of disorders, women are more inclined to struggle with depression or anxiety disorders.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that while men and women may face different mental illnesses in their lives, it does not mean that one type of disorder is either more or less serious than another. Just because it may affect one gender more frequently, the disorder can still be quite debilitating and affect both sexes’ quality of life. With that in mind, here are four mental illnesses that generally affect women disproportionately.
The term “anxiety disorder” tends to refer to an umbrella of several different mental illnesses, including generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and phobia disorders. According to statistics, women are more than twice as likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder than men. Furthermore, women are also more likely to experience OCD or a phobia disorder (60%) when compared to men.
Symptoms of anxiety disorders can include feeling nervous or irritable, an elevated heart rate, problems with concentration, hyperventilation (breathing rapidly), feeling tired or weak, and insomnia. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, she may feel fearful, even if the fear isn’t based on any logical or reasonable trigger. A woman may also have certain compulsions, such as excessive hand washing, or she may have unwanted, intrusive thoughts.
Depression is another disorder that tends to affect women at a greater rate than men. According to research, one in four women will need treatment for depression at some point in her life, versus one in ten men. While the reason for this is not exactly well known, scientists suspect that it may have to do with hormonal changes, such as those that can occur after childbirth or during menopause or puberty. Some statistics have revealed that up to 15% of women may suffer from postpartum depression (PPD).
The signs of depression in a woman can vary from person to person, but it may include certain thought processes or behaviors. For instance, a woman who struggles with depression might find herself dealing with ongoing sensations of sadness or “emptiness.” She may also lose interest in things that used to bring her pleasure, like hobbies or intimacy. Feelings of helplessness, guilt, and fatigue may also follow. She may also, unfortunately, try to take her own life.
While eating disorders can affect both men and women, women tend to struggle with them at a significantly higher rate than men do. Research has indicated that ¾ of all eating disorder sufferers are women, and nearly 23 million women will experience one in her lifetime. Sadly, of all mental disorders, the one with the highest mortality rate is anorexia nervosa, and 10% of all people who suffer from it will pass away due to complications from the disorder (including suicide).
Anorexia nervosa (characterized by strict dietary restriction and fear of gaining weight) is not the only eating disorder there is. They can also include bulimia nervosa (binging and purging), binge eating disorder (eating an unusually large amount of food in one sitting), OSFED (Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders, which may include a combination of eating disorders), orthorexia (under the guise of “healthy eating”), and ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or extremely picky eating).
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post traumatic stress disorder is another one of those mental disorders that tend to affect women markedly differently than it affects men. Unfortunately, women are no stranger to trauma, and the way they cope with it varies greatly from how men deal with it. Nearly half of all women will experience trauma in their lives, whether from abuse (including sexual, physical, and emotional) or neglect, or even from being in active combat. Furthermore, one in ten women will develop PTSD from that trauma.
The signs of PTSD can include flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic event, leading to sweating and a racing heart. Intrusive thoughts can follow, making it harder for her to live her life. Feelings of guilt, anger, or even embarrassment or shame can also arise for women with PTSD. A woman with PTSD may also be more easily startled than men, may feel emotionally “numb,” and also may become avoidant. She may also experience depression and anxiety.
Getting Help for Your Mental Illness
Having a mental illness is not a character flaw, and no person — whether they are a man, a woman, or non-binary — should be embarassed or ashamed of their mental disorder. Oftentimes, many people will not admit to their mental illness, as they may be afraid of being called “weak” or being mocked or belittled for it. Sadly, stigma surrounding mental disorders are still fairly common, and much more is needed to be done to help us as a society move beyond it.
Nevertheless, while it’s true that women are indeed more inclined to struggle more with specific mental illnesses, there is one major consideration that sets them apart from men: despite their predisposition toward developing certain disorders, they’re also more likely to seek help for it, as well. Seeking out mental health assistance is integral to recovery, and the sooner a struggling woman asks for help, the sooner she can finally start her path to healing.