However much we deny, the fact remains that Indian women are told to “work through it” or “shake it off”. From downplaying menstrual cramps to delayed diagnosis of life-threatening diseases, women face a huge disparity when it comes to their health. This is especially true when it comes to mental health. Several researchers found that women with anxiety disorders are more likely to internalise emotions, which typically results in withdrawal, loneliness and depression.
Did You Know?
Women have a higher mean level of internalising disorders while men show a higher mean level of externalising disorders.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information of India, “Gender is a critical determinant of mental health and mental illness. The patterns of psychological distress and psychiatric disorder among women are different from those seen among men. Gender differences occur particularly in the rates of common mental disorders wherein women predominate. Differences between genders have been reported in the age of onset of symptoms, clinical features, frequency of psychotic symptoms, course, social adjustment, and long-term outcome of severe mental disorders.”
Mental Health Symptom: Why The Gender Differences?
- 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. Women tend to produce less of the mood stabilizer serotonin and synthesize it more slowly than men, which may account for the higher rates of depression.
- 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. 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 tend to discuss them with a mental health specialist. However, women are sometimes afraid to report physical violence and abuse.
5 Mental Health Disorders That Affect Women More Than Men
About twice as many women as men experience depression. And this mental health issue can happen at any age. Some mood changes and depressed feelings occur with normal hormonal changes. But it’s vital to know that hormonal changes alone don’t cause depression. Most common causes of depression in women are:
- Puberty: Problems like emerging sexuality and identity issues, conflicts with parents and increasing pressure to achieve in school, sports or other areas of life have become synonymous with puberty. After puberty, depression rates are higher in females than in males.
- Premenstrual Issues: A small number of females have severe and disabling premenstrual symptoms (PMS) that disrupt their studies, jobs, relationships or other areas of their lives. PMS may cross the line into premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) — a type of depression that generally requires treatment.
- Pregnancy: Lack of social support, unintended or unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility and many pregnancy issues lead to depression.
- Postpartum: Many new mothers find themselves sad, angry and irritable, and experience crying spells soon after giving birth. However, postpartum depression is a serious medical condition requiring prompt treatment.
- Perimenopause & Menopause: Risk of depression may increase during the transition to menopause, a stage called perimenopause, when hormone levels may fluctuate erratically. Depression risk may also arise during early menopause or after menopause, both times when estrogen levels are significantly reduced.
Women are twice as likely as men to have panic disorder and generalized anxiety. There are types of anxiety. For example, social anxiety is typically manifested as an intense fear of social situations, high self-consciousness, and fear of being judged and criticised by others during interactions and performance situations. Here are some reasons why anxiety is more common among women.
- Brain chemistry and hormonal fluctuations, or how men and women tend to cope with stress differently result in this gender disparity
- Women faced with life stressors are more likely to ruminate about them, which can increase their anxiety, while men engage more in active, problem-focused coping
- Women are more likely to experience physical and mental abuse than men which has been linked to the development of anxiety disorders
- Child abuse has been associated with changes in brain chemistry and structure. Hence, women who have experienced sexual abuse may have abnormal blood flow in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in emotion processing
3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event, causing flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety. Intrusive memories, avoidance of a person, place or thing, mood changes and changes in behaviour are a few signs of PTSD. While PTSD can happen to anyone, statistics show that there is a significant gender difference in the prevalence of PTSD. The lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 5 to 6% in men and 10 to 12% in women. The reasons for gender differences are;
- Type Of Trauma: Women are subjected to specific types of trauma with a much higher overall conditional risk of PTSD. Men are more likely to encounter traumas such as physical assault, accidents, disaster, combat or to see death and injury. Women, on the other hand, are more prone to experience rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse as a child.
- Culture & Gender Roles: Incidence of PTSD is more evident in communities that stress traditional gender roles (men having more social power than women) because women in this type of culture feel more emotionally vulnerable.
- Coping Strategy: It is a known fact that men and women cope with stress differently. Considering women’s reliance on the support of others during traumatic events, they become more vulnerable to experiencing PTSD symptoms if their social network does not give them the support they need or if they feel rejected and abandoned.
4. Eating Disorders
The societal pressure to fit into certain definitions of femininity, the unachievable and fake beauty standards set by the industry and constant judgement about their appearance push women towards eating disorders. And our culture doesn’t help either. Eating leftovers, listening to taunts if you go for a second helping, the expectation to eat rabbit food and other social conditioning has led Indian women to think that eating is a task, rather than a vital need.
- Neuroticism, perfectionism and impulsivity are three personality traits often linked to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder
- Perceived pressures to be thin, cultural preferences for thinness and exposure to media promoting such ideals are some common causes
Major eating disorders prevalent among women:
- Anorexia Nervosa: It generally develops during adolescence or young adulthood. People with anorexia generally view themselves as overweight, even if they’re dangerously underweight. They tend to constantly monitor their weight, avoid eating certain types of foods, and severely restrict their calories.
- Bulimia Nervosa: People with bulimia frequently eat unusually large amounts of food in a specific period of time. During a binge, the person usually feels that they cannot stop eating or control how much they are eating. Common purging behaviours include forced vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas, and excessive exercise.
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: Although ARFID generally develops during infancy or early childhood, it can persist into adulthood. Individuals with this disorder experience disturbed eating either due to a lack of interest in eating or distaste for certain smells, tastes, colours, textures, or temperatures.
- Purging Disorder: Women with purging disorder often use purging behaviours, such as vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, or excessive exercising, to control their weight or shape. However, they do not binge.
- Orthorexia: Orthorexia leads to an obsessive focus on healthy eating, to an extent that disrupts the person’s daily life. For instance, the affected person may eliminate entire food groups, fearing they’re unhealthy. This can lead to malnutrition, severe weight loss, difficulty eating outside the home, and emotional distress.
Men die from suicide at four times the rate that women do, but women attempt suicide two or three times more often than men. According to WHO data, the age-standardized suicide rate in India is 16.4 per 100,000 for women (6th highest in the world). When risk factors are present, women are at a higher risk for considering suicide.
- Postpartum Depression: PPD affects around 15% of women, and is experienced after giving birth and for up to one year after. Tragically, 10% of postpartum psychosis cases result in suicide or infanticide.
- Perinatal Period: The perinatal period is the time during pregnancy and the first year after the birth of a child. The majority of women who die during this period have an anxiety-related disorder.
- Domestic Violence: Partner violence can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is also a risk factor for suicide.
- Childhood Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse in childhood is a major factor for future suicidal behaviour. Unhealthy coping strategies ultimately undermine feelings of self-worth, cause depression and put women at greater risk for suicide.
- Body Image Issues: Eating disorders and self-perception of your body caused by pressures to obtain unrealistic physical expectations are also causes of suicide among women.
Here is a reminder for you to go check up on your close ones! Watch this video to know about 5 signs you need to look out for!
5 Online Platforms To Consult A Therapist In India
If you or a loved one is facing mental health issues, you can connect with a qualified therapist from the comfort of your home. Here are a few platforms that offer online therapy and counselling for you.
They have a 24×7 support platform and promise privacy, confidentiality and security. You can visit their website for more information.
You can connect with an available expert as per your convenience and learn more about YourDOST on their website.
They offer online counselling chat and video counselling. To know more about how to get the best out of HopeQure, visit their website.
You can book a session in three simple steps. You can visit their website for advice, insights and consultation.
They provide a list of available therapists along with contact information. You may connect with them on the website and embark on the journey to better mental health.
Mental health matters. And women’s mental health matters. Anyone who is suffering from mental health issues is only a step away from accessible therapy. There’s no time like right now, to start feeling better.