Women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men (29% compared to 17%).This could be because, when asked, women are more likely to report symptoms of common mental health problems. (Better Or Worse: A Longitudinal Study Of The Mental Health Of Adults In Great Britain, National Statistics, 2003)
Depression is more common in women than men. 1 in 4 women will require treatment for depression at some time, compared to 1 in 10 men. The reasons for this are unclear, but are thought to be due to both social and biological factors. It has also been suggested that depression in men may have been under diagnosed because they present to their GP with different symptoms, for example a range of physical, stress related symptoms. (National Institute For Clinical Excellence, 2003)
Women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men. Of people with phobias or OCD, about 60% are female. (The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report, 2001)
Men are more likely than women to have an alcohol or drug problem. 67% of British people who consume alcohol at ‘hazardous’ levels, and 80% of those dependent on alcohol are male. Almost three quarters of people dependent on cannabis and 69% of those dependent on other illegal drugs are male. (The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report, 2001)
Differences in the extent of mental health problems
Mental health problems affect women and men equally, but some are more common among women. Abuse is often a factor in women’s mental health problems. Treatments need to be sensitive to and reflect gender differences.
Various social factors put women at greater risk of poor mental health than men. However women’s readiness to talk about their feelings and their strong social networks can help protect their mental health.
Women as guardians of family health
It is essential that women look after their mental health although busy lifestyles often make this difficult. Traditionally women have tended to take on the responsibility of looking after the health of members of their family as well as themselves. For instance women may shop for their family and choose what they eat or manage what their family do when they feel unwell. This role makes it particularly important that women understand how the choices we all make in everyday life can affect our mental health.
Women as carers
Carers can be women whether they care for their children, partner, parents, other relatives or friends. Women carers are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression in the general population. just over half of people who care for a person with a mental health problem are women and the average age of carers is 50 – 64 years.
Women’s friendships with other women help protect their mental health, providing a source of support, particularly in hard times or at times of loss or change. Mentally healthy women generally talk about their feelings more than men and more often have stronger social networks of friends and family. Good social support can play a part in preventing mental ill health and can help people recover from mental health problems.
Women’s mental health
About 25% of people who die by suicide are women. Again, women’s greater emotional literacy and readiness to talk to others about their feelings and seek help may protect them from suicidal feelings. Being a mother also makes women less likely to take their own life.
Women are particularly exposed to some of the factors that increase the risk of poor mental health because of the role and status that they typically have in society. The traditional roles for women from some ethnic groups living in the UK can increase their exposure to these risks.
The social factors particularly affecting women’s mental health include:
- more women than men are the main carer for their children and they may care for other dependent relatives too intensive caring can affect emotional health, physical health, social activities and finances
- women often juggle multiple roles they may be mothers, partners and carers as well as doing paid work and running a household
- women are over represented in low income, low status jobs often part-time and are more likely to live in poverty than men
- poverty, working mainly in the home on housework and concerns about personal safety can make women particularly isolated
- physical and sexual abuse of girls and women can have a long-term impact on their mental health, especially if no support has been received around past abuses.
- Mental health problems affecting more women than men
Some women find it hard to talk about difficult feelings and ‘internalise’ them, which can lead to problems such as depression and eating disorders. They may express their emotional pain through self-harm, whereas men are more likely to ‘act out’ repressed feelings, and to use violence against others.
More women than men experience depression. One in four women will require treatment for depression at some time, compared with one in 10 men. The reasons for this are unclear, but are thought to include social factors such as poverty and isolation and biological factors such as the hormonal changes experienced by women. However, some researchers dispute the relatively low depression rate for men.
Post natal depression is believed to affect between eight and 15% of women after they have given birth.
Women’s increased life expectancy means they are more likely than men to outlive their partner and move into residential care. This means they are more at risk of depression associated with psycho-social factors. Older people are often faced with more difficult life events and daily stresses than younger people and this may explain why they have a slightly increased risk of depression. Losses whether bereavement or losses associated with growing old such as loss of independence because of physical illness or disability can trigger depression.
Estimates suggest that 20% of older people living at home have symptoms of depression, rising to 40% for older people living in care homes. The majority of people affected are women. Those over the age of 85 are at particular risk.
Women are twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders as men. About 60% of the people with phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder are women. Phobias affect about 22 in 1,000 women in the UK, compared with 13 in 1,000 men.
Two thirds of people with dementia are women. Risk of dementia increases with age, and women have a higher life expectancy than men.
Eating disorders are more common in women than men, with young women most likely to develop one. 1.9% of women and 0.2% of men experience anorexia in any year. Between 0.5% and 1% of young women experience bulimia at any one time.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Worldwide, more women are affected by PTSD than men, largely because women are exposed to more sexual violence. The risk of developing PTSD after any traumatic event is 20.4% for women and 8.1% for men.