International Day of Action for Women’s Health: Women are subject to prejudice, discrimination and misogyny by society. This behaviour not only deprives women of opportunities they deserve, but also takes a toll on their mental health. Many women do not express their mental health problems due to the stigma associated with these conditions.
Are mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety more common in women than in men? Experts say that the answer is not so simple, because the reasons behind women’s susceptibility to mental health issues range from biological to psychological and societal.
Depression is a serious medical condition in which one experiences a persistent feeling of sadness, and no longer feels interested in doing the activities they once used to enjoy.
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, restlessness, uneasiness and tension which can cause one to sweat and have a rapid heartbeat.
Some experts state that the idea of women being more vulnerable to mental health issues than men is linked more to a patriarchal understanding of society than to scientific evidence. Also, women not only deal with their own emotional problems but also need to carry their spouse’s emotional baggage, experts say. Often, men are not comfortable expressing their mental health concerns because society believes men are not allowed to share their feelings, and if they do, they will be considered weak. Therefore, statistics show a higher prevalence of mental health disorders in women than in men.
“The idea that women are more prone to mental health concerns is an idea that is based far more on a gender-biased, patriarchal understanding of society and women as opposed to scientific evidence. More women are perhaps diagnosed with depression and anxiety because women carry the weight of their own emotional challenges along with the weight of their partner’s mental health and well-being. Additionally, as a society women are allowed to speak about their feelings, emotions, and challenges but men don’t have any access to these spaces due to conventional patriarchal standards. As a result, mental health practitioners and statistics paint a picture of greater prevalence and incidence in women,” Dr. Dinika Anand, Clinical Psychologist, BLK-Max Super Speciality Hospital, told ABP Live.
Anatomical differences in the brains of men and women may also have a role to play in the latter’s increased susceptibility to mental health issues. The experience of womanhood, menstruation, pregnancy and motherhood are challenging, and could be responsible for the greater prevalence of mental health issues in women. However, these are never considered as factors behind mental health issues being more common in women than in men, according to Dr Anand.
“Essentially, it is true that men and women have different brain anatomy and there are differences. For instance, women report higher levels of empathy. However, while the difference in biological makeup may contribute in part to susceptibility, perhaps the experience of womanhood plays a greater role. Another factor that deserves attention here is that women’s menstrual cycle involves a plethora of changes in their bodies each month which also impacts their emotional well-being and experience. The challenges of menstruation, conception, pregnancy, and motherhood are documented but never considered as factors that may be shaping the incidence and prevalence of mental health concerns in women,” Dr Anand said.
She explained that all of these factors put together create a potent case for understanding and examining the greater prevalence of mental health concerns in women from a much more nuanced perspective. She emphasised that it is crucial that the meaning behind these numbers is understood in a holistic manner which acknowledges and addresses the role of nature, nurture, society, and cultural factors.
Women experience various mood disorders during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and the postpartum period due to hormonal changes, Dr Mithee Bhanot, Senior Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Apollo 24|7, and Apollo Hospitals, Sector-26, Noida, told ABP Live.
“In addition, women are more likely to suffer from eating disorders like bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Eating disorders are often influenced by socio-cultural elements, ideals of the body, and media influence,” Dr Bhanot said.
Bulimia nervosa, also called bulimia, is a serious eating disorder in which people often secretly binge on large amounts of food, and then purge to get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way, according to Mayo Clinic.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which people have an abnormally low weight, and experience an intense fear of gaining weight due to a distorted body image. The focus of anorexic people is to maintain their weight, because of which they are unable to perform other life activities efficiently.
“Other contributing factors to the increased prevalence of mental health issues in women than in men could be psychological ones such as poor self-esteem and the need for perfectionism or control. Due to their greater susceptibility to experience some types of trauma, such as sexual assault or domestic abuse, women may have a higher chance of acquiring post-traumatic stress disorder,” Dr Bhanot said.
As experts have said, spreading awareness about women’s reproductive health, and encouraging their families to support them in all walks of life can significantly contribute towards a decrease in mental health illnesses in women.
Check out ABP Live’s stories explaining the science behind health-related subjects here.
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