Mental health awareness is undoubtedly a global consideration. And as we're becoming more aware of mental health and its societal impact, we're making better strides in advocacy, treatment, and recovery.
That said, the effects of mental health don't look the same for everyone. For example, research shows that 1 in 4 women will meet the criteria for depression in their lifetimes, compared to 1 in 10 men. Additionally, women are about twice as likely to experience an anxiety disorder.
But what explains these significant differences? As it turns out, a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and societal expectations can all play a role in shaping women and their mental health. Let's get to it.
Women as Caretakers
Women are significantly more likely than men to identify as caretakers for their children, siblings, partners, and adult parents. Caretaking can range from any role from occasionally providing emotional support to completely taking over all physical responsibilities.
The emotional labor behind caretaking can feel anxiety-provoking, challenging, and even thankless. At times, it may be financially draining.
Moreover, many women must sacrifice some of their own priorities or dreams to attend to the needs of others. This dynamic makes self-care difficult; even though it's one of the best deterrents for burnout and resentment, working around the clock tirelessly often makes setting time for yourself feel impossible.
Unfortunately, women often feel isolated with their struggles. They may not want to share how they feel because they don't want others to perceive them as selfish or ungrateful. They also might start using 'escape methods' like alcohol, food, or shopping to cope with their feelings, perpetuating even more stress.
Women experience rapid hormonal changes at various stages in their lives. While you can logically prepare for these changes, it's impossible to know exactly how your body will respond to certain fluctuations.
Mental health symptoms often emerge during adolescence, a frenzied period often associated with mood swings, rapid body changes, and personality shifts. If girls don't have adequate support during this confusing transition, this time can feel particularly frightening or lonely. Additionally, their parents often feel confused- they don't know how to "handle" their little girl turning into a teenager, and they may withdraw when their child needs them most.
Women also undergo massive hormonal changes during pregnancy and the postnatal period. As a result, their bodies are dramatically transforming- at the same time, they are adjusting to a new, life-changing identity as mothers. Postpartum depression and anxiety disorders are common, but the stigma of talking about them (or receiving help) remains an ongoing barrier.
Changes happen again during the perimenopausal and menopausal periods. During these years, women might experience mood swings, weight gain, sleep problems, and memory issues. At the same time, they often grapple with the existential concerns of growing older and reevaluating their life goals.
Eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia, disproportionally affect girls and women at 10x the rate of men. While eating disorders often manifest from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, women appear to be more vulnerable due to:
increasingly unrealistic expectations about body shape and size
early sexualization occurring in young girls
having a history of eating disorders running within the women in the family
generalized acceptance of toxic dieting culture among girls and women
increased susceptibility to depression and anxiety, which can be risk factors for eating disorders
Unfortunately, eating disorders are still relatively misunderstood. Many people assume it's a "teenage issue," and they dismiss it as a selfish phase. Furthermore, our society inadvertently encourages disordered eating habits with constant talk about dieting, weight loss, and achieving the perfect body.
When it comes to money, women typically feel more stressed and uncertain than their male counterparts. First, women earn less than men (82 cents per dollar) in nearly every occupation across every industry. Similarly, women report feeling less confident with investing, trading, and making sound financial decisions about their future.
Finally, women have higher rates of poverty than men. Unmarried mothers of young children are particularly at an increased risk for financial despair.
Money stress can certainly impact mental health. For instance, it's challenging to focus on treating your anxiety when you don't have enough money to pay for groceries. Yet, at the same time, paying for quality treatment may seem completely out-of-reach.
Final Thoughts on Supporting Women and Their Mental Health
Effective mental health treatment doesn't subscribe to a cookie-cutter formula. Instead, it's critical that women receive the individualized support they need to achieve meaningful recovery. Often, this support needs to be multifaceted and comprehensive.
At The Mental Health House, we support women and their loved ones with their mental health struggles. We are here to help you improve the quality of your life. Contact us today to get started on your journey.