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  • Women’s Mental Health

    If you have a mental health condition, you are not alone. Research indicates that people have distinctive types of mental health issues. 1 in 5 women in the United States has a mental health issue. Mental health conditions affect women, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, alcohol and substance use, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders. The most common women’s mental health issue is depression. Women are twice as likely to experience depression than men. 1 in 9 women has experienced depression within the past year.

    Women are twice as likely to experience generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder and PTSD, including experiencing hypervigilance, feeling depressed, and having difficulty feeling emotions. However, women are less likely overall to experience alcohol use disorder than men. Approximately 85%-95% of people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia and 65% with binge eating disorder are women. Women attempt suicide more often than men. However, men are four times more likely to die by suicide.

    Women with mental health conditions face distinctive challenges in knowing how to care for themselves throughout their journey in their lifetime phases.

    A mental health condition can impact reproductive health and mental health, making hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle and pregnancy worse. Hormones can influence a woman’s emotions and moods throughout her lifetime. At times, the impact on mood can impact a woman’s quality of life. Women with mental health conditions may have symptoms related to their menstrual cycles or menopause. However, anxiety and depression are the most common mental health issues in women. Throughout all these phases, you can learn ways to help your mental and reproductive health and well-being. A comprehensive approach to living with a mental health condition means knowing how to care for the complete aspects of your life.

    Causes of Depression

    • Family History. A family history of depression may have a higher level of risk. Likewise, depression can happen in women who do not have a family history of depression.
    • Brain Changes. The brains of people with depression look and function differently from those of people who do not have depression.
    • Chemistry. In someone with depression, parts of the brain that manage mood, thoughts, sleep, appetite, and behavior may not have the right balance of chemicals.
    • Hormone Levels. Changes in the female hormone’s estrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum period, perimenopause, or menopause may all raise a woman’s risk for depression. Additionally, a woman that experiences a miscarriage can place at a higher risk for depression.
    • Stress. Serious and stressful life events or the combination of stressful events, such as complex trauma, PTSD, grief, and loss of a loved one, a challenging relationship, career responsibilities, caring for children, infertility issues, elderly parents, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, sexual assault, and financial difficulties may activate depression.
    • Medical Health Issues. These severe illnesses include heart attack, stroke, hypothyroidism, or cancer that can lead to depression.
    • Chronic PainWomen who feel emotional or physical pain for long periods due to health issues, accidents, or trauma are much more likely to develop depression.

    Depression Symptoms

    • Feeling sad, “down,” or empty, including crying often
    • Feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, or useless
    • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed
    • Decreased low energy
    • Difficulty staying focused, remembering, or making decisions
    • Sleeplessness, early morning awakening, or oversleeping, not wanting to get up
    • Lack of appetite, leading to weight loss or eating to feel better, weight gain
    • Thoughts of harming yourself
    • Suicidal ideation thoughts
    • Feeling easily annoyed, irritated, or angered
    • Chronic physical symptoms, such as headaches, upset stomach, and pain

    Anxiety Disorders

    Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or fear about an event or situation. It is a normal stress reaction. It helps you stay alert for a challenging situation at work, study harder for an exam, or remain focused on an important speech. In general, it enables you to cope. Anxiety disorders happen when excessive anxiety interferes with everyday activities, such as going to work or school or spending time with friends or family. They are the most common mental disorders in the United States. Anxiety disorders are more than twice as common in women as in men. Anxiety can interfere with daily life, challenging everyday functioning such as daily activities like going to the store and talking to a coworker.

    Causes of Anxiety

    • Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, perinatal and postpartum.
    • Genetics and Heredities. Anxiety disorders tend to manifest in families.
    • Complex Trauma & PTSD such as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, an incident, or sexual assault can lead to serious health problems, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

    Types of Anxiety

    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). People with GAD worry excessively about daily, day-to-day issues, such as health, money, work, and family. With GAD, the mind often jumps to the worst-case disaster scenario, even when there is little or no reason to worry. Women with GAD may be anxious about just getting through the day. They may have muscle tension and other stress-related physical symptoms, such as trouble sleeping or upset stomach. At times, worrying keeps people with GAD from doing everyday tasks. Women with GAD have a higher risk of depression and are more likely to have an inherited family history of depression.
    • Panic Disorder. Panic disorders are twice as common in women as in men. People with panic disorder have sudden terror attacks when there is no actual danger. Panic attacks may cause a sense of unreality, a fear of impending catastrophe, or losing control. A fear of one’s own unexplained physical symptoms is a sign of panic disorder. People with panic attacks feel intense symptoms and sometimes believe they have heart attacks, are losing their minds, or are dying.
    • Social Phobia. Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is when people become very anxious and self-conscious in everyday social situations. People with social phobia fear being stalked and watched by others and feel that others are judging them. They may get embarrassed quickly and often have panic attack symptoms.
    • Specific Phobia. A specific phobia is an intense fear of something that poses little or no danger. These include closed-in spaces, heights, water, objects, animals, or specific situations. People with particular phobias often find that facing or even thinking about the meeting, the feared object or situation brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety.
    • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). People with OCD have unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or behaviors (compulsions) that cause anxiety. They may check the oven or iron repeatedly or perform the same routine over and over to control the pressure these thoughts cause. Often, the rituals end up holding the person.
    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD starts after a frightening event that involves physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who gets PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, or the damage may have happened to a loved one.

    Anxiety Symptoms

    Women with anxiety disorders experience a combination of anxious thoughts. Core beliefs, physical symptoms, and changes in behavior, including avoiding daily activities they used to do. Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms. They all involve fear and anxiety about what may happen in the present or future.

    Anxiety Physical Symptoms

    • Weakness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Rapid heart rate
    • Nausea
    • Upset stomach
    • Hot flashes
    • Dizziness

    Excellent quality women’s mental health means that they can cope with daily stresses, achieve personal goals, and experience a meaningful life. Some issues may prevent good mental health, including trauma, anxiety, and sleep problems. Although you may not be able to avoid a mental health condition, you can be initiative-taking and take steps to protect and support your mental health throughout your life. Seeking treatment for a mental health condition is essential to healing and recovery. Let us connect to help you find support, guidance, and help if you are concerned about your mental health and well-being.

    If you are experiencing a crisis, call 911 or call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

    References

    American Psychiatric Association. 2013. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

    CDC. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey— State Report. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/summaryreports.html3

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Fatal Injury Reports. www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html.

    Kang, H.-J., Kim, S.-Y., Bae, K.-Y., Kim, S.-W., Chin, I.-S., Yoon, J.-S., et al. (2015). Comorbidity of Depression with Physical Disorders: Research and Clinical Implications. Chonnam Medical                   Journal; 51(1): 8–18.

    National Institutes of Health (2008). Males and Eating Disorders. Medline Plus, 3(2):18. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring08/ articles/spring08pg18.html.

    National Library of Medicine. (2013). Panic disorder.

    National Institute of Mental Health. (2015). What are Anxiety Disorders?

    National Center for PTSD (2015). Women, Trauma, and PTSD. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/women/women-trauma-and-ptsd.asp.

    Office on Women’s Health (2021). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    Vesga-Lopez, O., Schneier, F.R., Wang, S., Heimberg, R.G., Liu, S.M., Hasin, D.S., Blanco, C.

    (2008). Gender differences in generalized anxiety disorder: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Journal of Clinical Psychiatry; 69(10): 1606-16.

    SAMHSA Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on                Drug       Use and Health (PDF, 2.3 MB). HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51.               Rockville, MD: SAMHSA.

    Trivedi, M.H. (2004). The Link Between Depression and Physical Symptoms. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry; 6(Suppl 1): 12–16.

    US Census. 2016. Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2015. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press- releases/2016/cb16-158.html.