Women and Mental Illness

Posted by on Feb 14, 2013 in Mental Illness |

Women and Mental Illness


Women and Mental Illness

Overall, the rates of mental illness between men and women are roughly the same. However, mental illness symptoms can present in different ways in men and women. Women also are more prone to certain mental illnesses, while others are more common in men.  For example, major depression is more common, and men are twice as likely to become dependent on alcohol.

Women and Mental Illness: Perinatal Mental Illness

Some mental illnesses occur exclusively in women. These include mental illnesses that occur as part of pregnancy and childbirth. In practice, these illnesses are known as maternity blues, postnatal depression and post-partum psychosis.

Depression during the first six weeks after childbirth (in women who were not suffering from depression before) was first recognized thirty years ago. For first time mothers, the rates of psychotic illness are up to thirty-five times higher within the first month of childbirth than it is in for general population women.

Women and Mental Illness:  Eating disorders and Abuse

There are also certain mental illnesses that occur in both sexes but are far more common in women. One of these is trauma resulting from physical and sexual abuse. Women are far more likely to be suffering from mental illness as a result of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, and rape.

In addition, eating disorders are far more common among women. Over 90% of people diagnoses with anorexia nervosa are women. Much of this may be attributable to the differences in social pressures and body image between men and women. Women are far more likely to feel pressured to lose weight and remain thin.

Women and Mental Illness: Gender differences in the course of mental illness

There may be specific differences in the way a mental illness presents and progresses in women. Schizophrenia, for example, is less severe in women and the onset is generally later than it is in men. Women with dual diagnoses tend to have more social contact, victimization, and medical illness problems, but fewer legal problems.

Women and Mental Illness: Social Factors

Some experts believe that certain mental illnesses are more common in women because of social factors. Neurotic illnesses, for example, tend to have numerous social causes, and are far more common in women.

In addition, the different way that men and women express mental distress and the different way that the medical community responds may play a role. For example women are often treated by a general practitioner for a mental illness, while men are more likely to be referred to a specialist. Women are also less likely to seek treatment for a mental illness.

There also may be gaps in services available for women patient. Mixed gender treatment services are likely to be dominated by men and less likely to address women’s issues.

Women and Mental Illness: Biological Factors

The gender differences in women and mental health may also have a biological basis. Hormonal differences between men and women could play a role in both the development of mental illness and the reaction to medication.




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