Women also undergo major physical changes during the stages of life such as pregnancy, childbirth and menopause that can contribute to their mental health issues. Depression and anxiety can affect both men and women, however, there is an increased chance of these illnesses in women during her pregnancy, childbirth and the year after. Women tend to give more time and effort to their family and daily responsibilities but can often forget about their own medical needs and their own self-care.
What goes on in the female brain and body to differentiate these responses to mental illness? The answers may lie in:
Biological influences. Female hormonal fluctuations are known to play a role in mood and depression. The hormone estrogen can have positive effects on the brain, protecting women from severe symptoms during certain phases of their menstrual cycles and maintaining the structure of neurons in the brain, which protects against some aspects of Alzheimer’s. On the less positive side, women tend to produce less of the mood stabiliser serotonin and synthesise it more slowly than men, which may account for the higher rates of depression. A woman’s genetic makeup is also believed to play a role in the development of such neurological disorders as Alzheimer’s.
Socio-cultural influences. Despite strides in gender equality, women still face challenges when it comes to socio-economic power, status, position, and dependence, which can contribute to depression and other disorders. Statistics show that a majority of women are the primary caregivers for children, and it is estimated that they also provide 80 percent of all caregiving for chronically ill elders, which adds stress to a woman’s life.
Girls tend to become dissatisfied with their bodies at puberty, a reaction that is linked to depression. Girls are also sexually abused more often than boys, and one in five women will experience rape or attempted rape, which can lead to depression and panic disorder.
Behavioural influences. There is some thinking that women are more apt to report mental health disturbances than men and that doctors are more prone to diagnose a woman with depression and to treat the condition with mood-altering drugs. Women are more likely to report mental health concerns to a general practitioner, while men report tend to discuss them with a mental health specialist. However, women are sometimes afraid to report physical violence and abuse.