The issue of mental health is finally starting (emphasis on starting) to shake off the shame and stigma that surrounds it, and receive the awareness it requires. From recognition to prevention to treatment – on day two of Women’s Health Week, we’re covering how to better your mental health.
Each year around one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness, but there are some mental health conditions that disproportionately impact women. Here are four mental health conditions that are more common in women.
Anxiety disorders affect 14 per cent of Australian adults but in a recent survey only 13 percent of people correctly identified the condition as our country’s most prevalent mental health issue. Women are particularly affected with one in three women experiencing anxiety, compared to one in five men.
There are many different kinds of anxiety but the most common include Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, and specific phobias.
Given that we all naturally experience feelings of anxiousness from time to time, it can be difficult to determine how much is too much. Common symptoms of anxiety can be physical, psychological and behavioural, involving excessive fear, worry and catastrophising, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, hot and cold flushes, and avoidance of anxiety-inducing situations.
Depression is an affective or mood disorder characterised by a persistent disturbance in emotional state that impacts a person's ability to function day-to-day. Around 7.1 percent of Australian women will experience an affective disorder, of which depression makes up the majority. Symptoms are both emotional and physical, including feelings of guilt, hopelessness, irritability, apathy and sadness, excessive crying, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, changes in appetite, fluctuations in weight, sleeping more or less and lack of concentration.
Perinatal depression covers the time period from conception until one year after birth. It includes antenatal depression, which is experienced during pregnancy and affects one in ten women, and postnatal depression, which experienced between one month and one year after childbirth, affecting one in seven women. While many women experience ‘baby blues’ around three to ten days after giving birth due to changes in hormone levels, symptoms persisting for over two weeks can be a sign of something more serious.
“The most common things are low mood, mood fluctuations, experiencing no joy in life, excessive worry about the baby’s health to a point where it is hard to settle,” Gidget Foundation psychologist Chris Barnes told Women’s Health.
“Other things include feeling overwhelmed, appetite and sleep disturbances, sometimes physical symptoms like feeling sick in the stomach, sweaty palms, even panic attacks. The more serious symptoms can include thoughts about harming the baby or themselves."
3. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
It’s natural to feel upset, fearful and anxious after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event like physical or sexual assault, car accidents, war or natural disasters, but these feelings usually fade over time. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs when these feelings persist at the level felt during the traumatic event and impact day-to-day life. Sufferers may continue to relive the trauma through nightmares, flashbacks and memories they can’t control, and experience physical reactions like panic, sweating and heart palpitations when reminded of the event. Signs of PTSD also include being overly alert, feeling emotionally numb, and avoiding reminders of the trauma. Around 12 percent of Australians will experience PTSD in their lifetime with women twice as likely as men to report developing the condition.
Experts suggest that this is not due to women experiencing more trauma, but the kind of trauma women are more likely to go through. For example sexual assault and abuse is associated with a greater risk of developing PTSD.
4. Eating disorders
Women are nine times more likely than men to suffer from an eating disorder – a condition that has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. There are several different types of eating disorders but the most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED). They all involve an unhealthy relationship with food and eating, characterised by a range of behavioural, physical and psychological symptoms.
There is no single cause behind eating disorders but there are a number of complex social, cultural, psychological and biological factors that contribute to the condition.