Minority Health Awareness for Women

This month is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and it is part of our mission to keep you informed and up-to-date with the latest statistics and information about a form of illness that affects so many of us.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental disorders can affect women and men differently. Some disorders are more common in women such as depression and anxiety. There are also certain types of depression that are unique to women. Some women may experience symptoms of mental disorders at times of hormone change, such as perinatal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression. When it comes to other mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, research has not found differences in rates that men and women experience these illnesses. But, women may experience these illnesses differently – certain symptoms may be more common in women than in men, and the course of the illness can be affected by the sex of the individual. Researchers are only now beginning to tease apart the various biological and psychosocial factors that may impact the mental health of both women and men.

Women and men also have many of the same health problems. But these problems can affect women differently. For example, according to MedlinePlus:

  • Women are more likely to die following a heart attack than men
  • Women are more likely to show signs of depression and anxiety than men
  • The effects of sexually transmitted diseases can be more serious in women
  • Osteoarthritis affects more women than men
  • Women are more likely to have urinary tract problems

According to Mental Health America, some of the stats about depression in women lay out thusly:

Prevalence

  • Approximately 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year.
  • About one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime.
  • Depression occurs most frequently in women aged 25 to 44.

Contributing Factors

  • Many factors in women may contribute to depression, such as developmental, reproductive, hormonal, genetic and other biological differences (e.g. premenstrual syndrome, childbirth, infertility, and menopause).
  • Social factors may also lead to higher rates of clinical depression among women, including stress from work, family responsibilities, the roles and expectations of women and increased rates of sexual abuse and poverty.

Gender Differences

  • Women experience depression at roughly twice the rate of men.
  • Girls 14-18 years of age have consistently higher rates of depression than boys in this age group.

Marriage/Childbirth

  • Married people have a lower rate of depression than those living alone.  However, unhappily married people have the highest rates of depression; happily married men have the lowest rates.
  • Approximately 10%-15% of all new mothers get postpartum depression, which most frequently occurs within the first year after the birth of a child.

Co-occurring Illnesses

  • Research shows a strong relationship between eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia nervosa) and depression in women. About 90-95% of cases of anorexia occur in young females. Reported rates of bulimia nervosa vary from one to three out of 100 people.
  • Research shows that one out of three depressed people also suffers from some form of substance abuse or dependence.

Suicide

  • Although men are more likely than women to die by suicide, women report attempting suicide approximately twice as often as men.
  • An estimated 15 percent of people hospitalized for depression eventually take their own lives.

Treatment

  • Depression in women is misdiagnosed approximately 30 to 50 percent of the time.
  • Fewer than half of the women who experience clinical depression will ever seek care.

Women’s Attitudes Toward Depression

According to a Mental Health America survey on public attitudes and beliefs about clinical depression:

  • More than one-half of women believe it is “normal” for a woman to be depressed during menopause and that treatment is not necessary.
  • More than one-half of women believe depression is a “normal part of aging.”
  • More than one-half believe it is normal for a mother to feel depressed for at least two weeks after giving birth.
  • More than one-half of women cited denial as a barrier to treatment while 41% of women surveyed cited embarrassment or shame as barriers to treatment.
  • In general, over one-half of the women said they think they “know” more about depression than men do.

Women may face unique issues when it comes to substance use, in part influenced by:

  • sex—differences based on biology
  • gender—differences based on culturally defined roles for men and women

Scientists who study substance use have discovered special issues related to hormones, menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause that can impact women’s struggles with drug use. In addition, women themselves describe unique reasons for using drugs, including controlling weight, fighting exhaustion, coping with pain, and self-treating mental health problems.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has this to say about women and substance issues:

  • Women can respond to substances differently. For example, they may have more drug cravings and may be more likely to relapse after treatment. This could be affected by a woman’s menstrual cycle.
  • Women use substances differently than men, such as using smaller amounts of certain drugs for less time before they become addicted.
  • Sex hormones can make women more sensitive than men to the effects of some drugs.
  • Women who use drugs may also experience more physical effects on their heart and blood vessels.
  • Brain changes in women who use drugs can be different from those in men.
  • Women may be more likely to go to the emergency room or die from an overdose or other effects of certain substances.
  • Women who are victims of domestic violence are at increased risk of substance use.
  • Divorce, loss of child custody, or the death of a partner or child can trigger women’s substance use or other mental health disorders.
  • Women who use certain substances may be more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety, or depression.

And bear this in mind too, based on stats from SAMHSA:

4.6 million women (or 3.8 percent) ages 18 and older have misused prescription drugs in the past year.

Every 3 minutes, a woman goes to the emergency room for prescription painkiller misuse or abuse.

15.8 million women (or 12.9 percent) ages 18 or older have used illicit drugs in the past year.

A 2018 report issued by the National Center for Health Statistics says that both men’s and women’s suicide rates continue to grow in nearly all age groups, but women have seen an overall significantly higher increase since the turn of the millennium. The report found that the rate of women who died by suicide increased 50 percent, compared with 21 percent for men, from 2000 through 2016, the last year for which data are available. And while men’s rates have increased about 1 percent each year since 2010, the rate of women who died by suicide has seen an average annual growth of 3 percent since 2007.

Women clearly handle their mental health issues differently than men. A report on PrisonPolicy.org states that women in jails often report higher rates of mental health problems when compared to men. The report’s results are consistent with a 2006 report and others that show that incarcerated women are more likely than men to have a history of mental health problems. But the more contemporary measure of serious psychological distress shows that women are also more likely to report current mental health problems – especially in jails, where as many as 1 in 3 women experience serious psychological distress.

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, especially ones that have led them to addictions, please get help.