International Women’s Day 2019
Women’s Mental Health
When it comes to mental health illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the prevalence is the same for women as for men. Women however do have much higher rates of anxiety, one in three women in Australia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of sexual violence, one in five. Serious mental illness, makes women much more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Borderline personality disorder is a female-dominant diagnosis. Women are nine times more likely than men to suffer from an eating disorder – a condition that has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Women are more biologically prone to mental illness with some more vulnerable to episodes of mental illness during periods of significant hormonal change, such as the perinatal period (pregnancy and post-childbirth) and menopause. Both very gender specific issues.
Gender-based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, and "unremitting responsibility for the care of others" are all risk factors that disproportionately affect women, according to the World Health Organisation.
When it comes to anxiety, women appear to have different way of coping with stress, with the propensity to ruminate on problems. Given that we all naturally experience feelings of anxiety or worry from time to time, how much is too much? Common symptoms of anxiety can be physical, psychological and behavioural, involving excessive fear, worry and catastrophising, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, hot and cold flushes, and avoidance of anxiety-inducing situations.
Depression is characterised by both emotional and physical symptoms, including feelings of guilt, hopelessness, irritability, apathy and sadness, excessive crying, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, changes in appetite, fluctuations in weight, sleeping more or less and lack of concentration.
PTSD occurs after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event like physical or sexual assault, car accident, war or natural disasters and sufferers continue to relive the trauma through nightmares, flashbacks and memories they can’t control, and experience physical reactions like panic, sweating and heart palpitations when reminded of the event.
There are several different types of eating disorders but the most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. They all involve an unhealthy relationship with food and eating, characterised by a range of behavioural, physical and psychological symptoms.
Whilst not all mental health problems are avoidable, women can take steps to protect and support their mental health throughout their life. Good mental health is essential to overall well-being. Paying attention to the very basics of good health, through to daily exercise, a nutritional diet and sleep, are essential.
Research shows that there are two main factors which are highly protective against the development of mental problems. These are having sufficient autonomy to exercise some control of and access to some material resources that allow choice over events, and psychological support from family, friends, or health providers. Thankfully women are more likely to disclose mental health problems and seek psychological help. Gender informed mental health practices use respectful language, enquire with sensitivity and skill and teach emotional focused responses. With effective treatments and the right care women do recover from mental illness.
Further information can be obtained via www.beyondblue.org.au. If you or anyone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.