International Women’s Day: Where are we with women’s mental health?

News just in - women have a different experience of mental health issues than men.

Historically, our understanding of mental health has been largely from the point of view of male researchers, professionals, and with the prototype of the male patient. Considering the gender-specific factors contributing to mental health is relatively new – and both an exciting and welcome development.

It is important to note that all mental health issues are distressing, and equally so whatever your gender (rest assured there will be a similar blog post from us around Movember….). But for the best support and treatment, we need to understand the unique aspects of women’s experiences of mental health.

So, ladies, this month it’s your turn!

How many women, really?

Mental health issues contribute the greatest burden of disease on Australian women. The rates of common mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are higher amongst women than men.

·       1 in 5 women will experience depression at some time in their life

·       1 in 3 women will experience anxiety at some time in their life

·       Depression and anxiety are more likely for women who are pregnant or in the first year after giving birth

Why are women different?

There are both biological and social reasons to consider women’s mental health unique, in terms of risks, types of problems, health behaviours and treatment options.

Biologically, female brains have different biochemical activity to men, and are affected by unique hormonal changes. Menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause bring significant hormonal and physical changes that place a lot of stress on physical and mental wellbeing. Peri-menopausal depression, postnatal depression and anxiety, and premenstrual mood fluctuations can cause significant disruption to women’s lives, however diagnosis can be easily missed.

Pregnancy, motherhood and menopause are also incredibly stressful periods of life, when women can often ignore their own wellbeing and focus on others. Women are more likely to be carers - for children, aging relatives, and for those who are unwell or otherwise unable to look after themselves. Carer stress is a significant burden – and often a silent one.

Sadly, we are all too aware of the concerning rate of domestic violence in our community, with women often the victims of this abuse. This can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and substance abuse.

Treatment approaches also differ – compared with men, there are differences in the medications women are prescribed and the reactions they have. Different ways of thinking, communicating and problem solving will also often result in different approaches to psychological therapy for women and men.

Reach out

This International Women’s Day, take care of yourself and the women around you. If you or any of the women in your community are feeling stressed, down, or worried about their mental health, reach out for help. Women are far more likely than men to seek psychological care – so there’s some good news!

For further information on women’s mental health, the following organisations offer excellent resources:

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

PANDA http://www.panda.org.au/

Jean Hailes http://jeanhailes.org.au/