Past research has focused on women’s mental health disorders being related primarily to childbirth. Postpartum depression research continues with new information constantly emerging; however, information is now available to show that women may suffer mental health issues as a result of many different contributing factors and disproportionately suffer from a variety of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Scientists have discovered a connection between various biological and psychosocial factors to mental health and mental illness in both women and men, and are finding that mental health issues affect women differently than men. For example, women have depression more often than men, and are depressed in different ways. (See figure 1). Research shows that before adolescence and late in life, females and males experience depression at about the same frequency. Because the gender difference in depression is not seen until after puberty and decreases after menopause, scientists hypothesize that hormonal factors are involved in women’s greater vulnerability. Women also are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime such as rape and domestic abuse, which in turn increases the likelihood of mental health issues.
Common Mental Health Disorders
Women and men may suffer from the same types of mental disorders; however, as previously stated, women suffer from depression and anxiety at a higher rate than men. In addition, women are more likely to be victims of intentional injury crimes, which contribute to the higher incidence of depression and anxiety specifically anxiety related to PTSD.
Research completed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration in 2003 found that 23% of women had experienced an anxiety disorder during the past year, compared to 14% of men. The most common anxiety disorders experienced by women include specific phobias, social phobia, PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
More than 17 million Americans experience depression every year. Over half are women. In fact, women experience depression twice as often as men and they often experience it earlier, longer, and more severely. Higher rates of depression in women may be linked to biological and social differences. The same research found that mood disorders, such as depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are also more common among women than men. The study found that 11.6% of women experienced a mood disorder as opposed to 7.7% of men.
Women are more likely than men to experience depression in association with other conditions such as eating disorders, anxiety, and stress. On the other hand, men tend to have depression associated with alcoholism, antisocial behaviors, obsessive-compulsive personalities, and self-centered behaviors. A study completed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration in 2003 found that nearly one-quarter of new mothers suffer mild depression, 9.7% show moderate and 6.5% show symptoms of severe depression.
Women’s Mental Health in Utah
Data from the Utah’s Health Status Survey in 2004 indicated that 22% of Utah women report below average mental health. In 2005 20% of the women queried indicated that for 7 or more of the past 30 days their mental health had not been good. Data from 2004 indicated that 16% of women queried about general mental functioning felt that they accomplish less.
Low general mental functioning suggests feelings of depression, despair, anxiety, etc. When looking specifically at issues related to depression and focusing on maternal depression the numbers bear out. For example, postpartum depression affects more women in their reproductive years than does gestational diabetes (2.2%), pregnancy associated hypertension (5.6%), and even preterm birth (9.5%), yet it receives much less detection, treatment and research.
In Utah, a quarter of all women who delivered a live birth reported feeling moderately depressed, very depressed, or very depressed and had to get help during 2000-2002. (See figure 2). Utah’s prevalence of postpartum depression is higher than what much of the literature indicates (25% compared to 10-20%). In a recent analysis of PRAMS data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that 62% of Utah women who delivered a live birth during 2000 reported low to moderate levels of depression. Utah ranked highest among the six states compared. These data are of tremendous concern to those working in maternal and child health because of the health implications that they may have for women and their infants throughout the state.
Mental disorders in women are increasing at an alarming rate. An understanding of the common mental health issues, their symptoms and recommended treatment is imperative. Mental illness is a very treatable disorder. The evidence for treatment being more eﬀective than placebo is overwhelming. The degree of eﬀectiveness tends to vary, depending on the disorder and the target population. Recovery is variously called a process, an outlook, a vision, and a guiding principle. There is neither a single agreed-upon deﬁnition of recovery nor a single way to measure it. But the overarching message is that hope and restoration of a meaningful life are possible, despite serious mental illness.
- About Women’s Health, The New York Times Company, 2006 at: http://womenshealth.about.com/library/blppd.htm
- American Psychiatric Association , Healthy Minds, 2006 at: http://healthyminds.org/expertopinion10.cfm
- National Institute of Mental Health, Women and Mental Health at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/healthinformation/depwomen.cfm
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Mental Health, 2006 at: http://www.4women.gov/mh/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Mental Health Topics,
- Women, Violence and Trauma, 2006 at: http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/topics/explore/womenandtrauma/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. Women’s Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006. This publication is available online at www.hrsa.gov/womenshealth
- Utah Department of Health, Division of Community and Family Health Services, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Reproductive Health Program. Utah PRAMS Data Book 2000-2001, January, 2005.
- World Health Organization, Gender and Women’s Mental Health, 2006 at: http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/