Mental health and Women’s History Month

Historically, one in five American women experience a major mental illness at any given time. Women tend to experience mental illness slightly differently than men. Specifically, women are more prone to what are known as internalizing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, while men are more prone to externalizing mental illnesses such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and antisocial behaviors. An internalizing mental illness is one which causes a person to turn inward. It often leads to withdrawal, ruminating, loneliness, and feelings of sadness. Women who find themselves retreating from life and internalizing their emotions may be experiencing major depression or an anxiety disorder.

Women also tend to experience more physical symptoms in the context of mental illness than men. Headaches, stomachaches, chronic pain, and high blood pressure can all be symptoms of mental illness. Other physical signs include sleep difficulties, weight fluctuations, lack of energy, or a low sex drive. Physical symptoms should always be checked out by a medical doctor. But, once a medical diagnosis is ruled out, women who experience unexplained physical symptoms may consider the possibility of an undiagnosed mental illness.

Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems in Women
Women disproportionately experience some of the following risk factors for common mental disorders than men.

  • Women earn less than men. Women who are full time workers earn about one-fourth less than male counterparts in a given year.
  • The poverty rate for women aged 18 to 64 is 14.2% compared with 10.5% for men. For women aged 65 and older the poverty rate is 10.3%, while the poverty rate for men aged 65 and older is 7.0%.1
  • Victims of violence: About 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • An estimated 65% of caregivers are women. Female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.
  • Women have significant barriers to receiving mental health care, including economic barriers, lack of time or a support system, and stigmatization.

General Signs of Mental Illness
Difficulty functioning in life
Sometimes the first signs of mental illness are seen in decreased functioning. This might appear as bad grades, poor work performance, failing to following through on responsibilities, difficulty coping with stress, or problems in personal relationships.

Changes in mood and emotion
Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes or fluctuations in mood are another primary sign of many mental illnesses. This might be displayed as a depressed mood, feelings of euphoria, excessive energy, lack of emotion, or feelings of apathy. Alternatively, a person might experience excessive guilt, fear, shame, irritability, or anger.

Cognitive deficiencies
These can include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, or spells of confusion. Any troubling cognitive symptoms of this nature should be assessed for a possible mental illness.
Risky or uncharacteristic behaviors.

Mental illness sometimes leads to risky behaviors such as spending exorbitant amounts of money, engaging in risky sexual behaviors, or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes a dual diagnosis is present, in which a person experiences an addiction to drugs or alcohol in addition to a diagnosis such as depression or PTSD.

Breaks with reality
Breaks with reality are found in psychotic disorders and severe depression. These might manifest in the form of delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, or a sense of detachment from the world.
Statistics: American Psychiatric Association. “Best Practice Highlights Female Patients.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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