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  • Brittany Montes, Psy. D.

The Unique Mental Health Needs of Women

In keeping with the theme of Women’s History Month, this post will explore the unique mental health concerns that women face on a day-to-day basis.  Per McLean Hospital (2022), women often feel the impact of mental health issues differently than men.  Further, there are many aspects of mental health that are unique to women and these aspects vary significantly over the lifetime of women.


Woman in a mental health counseling session

The American Psychiatric Association (2017) states that approximately 1 in 5 women in the U.S. has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.  Most common among these diagnoses is depression (McLean Hospital, 2022).  In fact, women are twice as likely as men to experience depression.  Further, approximately 1 in 9 adult women have experienced a depressive episode over the last year (Richards & Sayres Van Neil, 2017).  Women who are experiencing a depressive episode are likely to exhibit changes in sleeping habits, emotional lability, anhedonia, thoughts related to self-harm, and changes in eating habits (McLean Hospital, 2022).  In terms of suicide, while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are 4 times more likely to complete suicide (Richards & Sayres Van Neil, 2017).


Similarly, women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Panic Disorder (Richards & Sayres Van Neil, 2017).  Teenaged girls may develop anxiety disorders as the result of physical and biological changes, pressures to perform academically, and co-morbid diagnoses (McLean Hospital, 2022).  Women are also twice as likely to experience symptoms related to PTSD and are more likely to experience symptoms of hypervigilance, depression, and emotional disconnection (Richards & Sayres Van Neil, 2017).  


Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood mental health disorders.  Notably, boys are more than 2 times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD (CDC, 2022).  This likely reflects a tendency for boys to exhibit more external symptoms (i.e. behavioral problems, impulsivity, etc.) of ADHD (McLean Hospital, 2022).  However, girls are more likely to experience difficulties with attention, concentration, and self-esteem.  Furthermore, undiagnosed ADHD could damage a girl’s self-esteem and increase her risk of developing eating disorders, depression, and anxiety (McLean Hospital, 2022).


According to a 2017 (Richards & Sayres Van Neil) article produced by the American Psychiatric Association, 85-95% of individuals diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia and 65% of individuals diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder are women.  It is often theorized that society’s unrealistic beauty standards strongly contribute to the development of eating disorders, especially in teenage girls (McLean Hospital, 2022).  


It is also vitally important to note that transgender women face even more unique aspects of mental health than their cisgender counterparts.  Specifically, a recent study found that more than 90% of Black transgender women have been exposed to (either directly experienced or witnessed) multiple forms of violence (Sherman et al., 2022).  Furthermore, Sherman et al. (2022) found that approximately 33% of transgender women have been verbally harassed by a stranger in public over the past year.  This type of stigma and harassment has been associated with depression and anxiety in transgender women (Yang et al., 2015).  In fact, Sherman et al. (2022) found that approximately 90% of Black transgender women have experienced depressive symptoms over their lifetime.  Overall, transgender women appear to hold a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems than transgender men (Yang et al., 2015).


At this point, you may be asking why women are at higher risks for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental concerns.  The American Psychiatric Association (Richards & Sayres Van Neil, 2017) has identified several risk factors including ongoing earning gaps between men and women which results in higher poverty rates for women.  Further, approximately 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (Richards & Sayres Van Neil, 2017).  Similarly, the American Psychological Association (2022) listed income inequality, low social status and rank, gender-related/intimate partner violence, psychological violence, sexual harassment, and the status of being the primary caregiver as risk factors for women in developing a mental health disorder.


Overall, women face many unique risk factors and concerns regarding mental health.  Specifically, women are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, PTSD, and eating disorders than men over the course of their lifetime.  Furthermore, they are more likely to experience poverty, abuse, and violence; which significantly increases their risks of developing mental health concerns throughout their lifetime.  Additionally, disorders such as ADHD are often misdiagnosed in young girls as they often experience fewer external symptoms than their male counterparts.


Mental health is vitally important for all individuals throughout society.  However, for women, it is equally important to find providers who are trained to understand and work with the unique mental health needs that they face on a day-to-day basis.  As a woman-owned practice, CBTC is especially tuned-in to the mental health needs of women throughout the Hampton Roads area.  If you find yourself in need of a mental health provider, please do not hesitate to reach out to us (757.410.0700)!



About the Author

Dr. Montes is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center in Chesapeake, VA. 



References

American Psychiatric Association. (2017). Mental health disparities: Women’s mental health. psychiatry.org -Mental Health Disparities. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://www.psychiatry.org/File Library/Psychiatrists/Cultural-Competency/Mental-Health-Disparities/Mental-Health-Facts-for-Women.pdf


American Psychiatric Association. (2019, May 13). Men, women, and differing responses to stress. Psychiatry.org - Men, Women, and Differing Responses to Stress. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from http://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/men-women-and-differing-responses-to-stress 


Campbell, J., Mangurian, C., Olushoga, L., & Sayres Van Niel, M. (n.d.). Stress and Trauma Toolkit for Treating Women and Changing Political and Social Environment. Psychiatry.org - Women. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from http://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/cultural-competency/education/stress-and-trauma/women 


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, August 9). Data and statistics about ADHD. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html 


McLean Hospital. (2022, March 4). Understanding mental health over a woman's lifetime. Understanding Mental Health Over a Woman's Lifetime | McLean Hospital. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from http://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/understanding-mental-health-over-womans-lifetime 


Richards, M., & Sayres Van Niel, M. (Eds.). (2017). Gender Differences in Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/Psychiatrists/Cultural-Competency/Mental-Health-Disparities/Mental-Health-Facts-for-Women.pdf 


Sherman, A. D., Allgood, S., Alexander, K. A., Klepper, M., Balthazar, M. S., Hill, M., Cannon, C. M., Dunn, D., Poteat, T., & Campbell, J. (2021). Transgender and gender diverse community connection, help-seeking, and mental health among black transgender women who have survived violence: A mixed-methods analysis. Violence Against Women, 28(3-4), 890–921. https://doi.org/10.1177/10778012211013892 


Yang, M.-F., Manning, D., van den Berg, J. J., & Operario, D. (2015). Stigmatization and mental health in a diverse sample of transgender women. LGBT Health, 2(4), 306–312. https://doi.org/10.1089/lgbt.2014.0106 


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