By Thrive Wellness Reno Therapist Lynn Carver, LCSW
Mental and behavioral health conditions can affect women and men differently. While it can be detrimental to make sweeping generalities, there can be variations in the ways women and men experience and address mental health challenges.
MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CONCERNS FACED BY WOMEN
Women are more likely to seek mental health support with nearly 25% of women having received mental health treatment in the past year compared to 13% of men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Women seek therapy for any number of reasons, including:
- History of trauma, including childhood abuse/neglect, adult victims of crime, natural disasters, etc.
- Substance abuse
- Interpersonal relationship problems
- Work-life balance
- Caregiver burnout
- Professional obligations
- Domestic violence victimization
- Eating disorders
- Gender dysphoria
- Parenting challenges
The increased likelihood of women attending therapy may mean that women feel more comfortable seeking support.
Anxiety and Depression in Women
Women are more likely to experience depression, with depression occurring in 10% of women in contrast to 5% of men, according to the CDC. Anxiety is also more common in women, with 23% of women versus 14% of men experiencing some kind of anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Higher rates of anxiety and depression faced by women may be due to the increased tendency of women to reveal their struggles with mental health professionals and a lower prevalence among men to seek mental health care.
Mental and Behavioral Health Conditions Unique to Women
Some mental and behavioral health concerns only occur in women. Often, these conditions involve hormonal changes that can exacerbate mental and behavioral challenges. Some mental and behavioral health struggles unique to women include:
- Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs): Either during pregnancy or following pregnancy, women may struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders which may stem from unresolved trauma, traumatic birth experiences, and/or fears around new parenting responsibilities. Partners can also experience mental health challenges surrounding parenthood, but they are more prevalent among birthing parents.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): Similar to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) but more severe, PMDD can cause extreme irritability, depression, or anxiety in the weeks preceding the onset of menstruation.
- Perimenopause-related depression: Perimenopause, the transition women experience before entering menopause, has been linked to depression with perimenopausal women being three times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than premenopausal women, according to one study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Gender Differences in the Expression of Mental Illnesses
Other mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, occur in women and men at similar rates. However, these disorders may manifest differently across genders. For example, the onset of bipolar disorder, a condition characterized by periods of intense elation followed by periods of severe depression, often develops later in life for women than men. Additionally, women with bipolar disorder tend to experience mood disturbances that correspond to a seasonal pattern. Furthermore, women with bipolar disorder can experience emotions of mania and depression at once and rapid cycling between the two emotional phases more often than men. With schizophrenia, women seem to develop the disorder later in life than men as well. Women also tend to experience more mood disturbances and have less severe negative symptoms.
HOW ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES CONTRIBUTE TO MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CHALLENGES IN WOMEN
Many physical, mental, and behavioral health struggles in adulthood can often be traced back to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which describe:
- Childhood abuse/neglect
- Difficult parental/home situations, such as poverty, substance use within the home, parents with untreated mental illness, etc.
- Environmental stressors, including living in high crime neighborhoods, exposure to violence or bullying at school, etc.
The higher one’s exposure to ACEs, the greater their risk is of facing adult health challenges such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. According to one study published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 39% of women in the U.S. have been exposed to multiple ACEs compared to 21% of men. The study also found that women are more likely to experience more complex and varied patterns of childhood adversity, which can be detrimental to physical, mental, and behavioral health.
HOW SOCIETAL PRESSURE ON WOMEN IMPACTS MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL WELL-BEING
In addition to ACEs, immense societal pressures on women can serve as a major source of distress. Cultural expectations for women to look, behave, and achieve in certain ways are misleading, unrealistic, and potentially harmful to their well-being. Media portrayals of women play a significant role in this phenomenon. So often, images featuring minimally dressed women sensually eating a juicy, humongous burger are immediately followed by ads for weight loss solutions. This is just one of many examples of conflicting and confusing media messaging centered around and aimed at women, specifically.
INTEGRATING MENTAL, BEHAVIORAL, AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
Mental, behavioral, and physical health are intricately intertwined. Any changes to one of these components can have echoing effects on the others. When women care for their mental and behavioral health in addition to physical well-being, they can improve their relationships with themselves and others, their bodies, nourishment, finances, their professions, and more.
For example, when a person improves the way they nourish their body, they may notice benefits to their entire well-being, such as:
- Improved mood
- Heightened ability to focus
- Increased effectiveness in carrying out their obligations
- Decreased risk for developing serious health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes
Furthermore, when individuals prioritize making space for positive experiences in their lives, they may catalyze positive life changes, such as:
- Improved ability to tolerate distress
- Increased motivation to work towards goals
- Heightened sense of self-worth
Often, women have been conditioned to distrust their intuition, but when they learn to have confidence in it, they may realize that they have everything they need to improve their lives. However, at times it takes an outside perspective and expert guidance to realize one’s strengths and overcome any struggles. Seeing a mental health professional can help empower women to become familiar with and rely on their own natural insights as well as develop healthy coping skills to navigate through any challenges that come their way.
MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CARE FOR WOMEN
Barriers to Mental and Behavioral Health Care
Due to existing health disparities, women may run into obstacles when seeking professional help. Some of these barriers are similar to those that exist for men.
Common barriers to mental and behavioral health care include:
- Availability of appropriate services at various levels of care
- Health insurance costs
- Low socioeconomic status
- Lack of time due to other demands and obligations
- Competing priorities, such as affording living expenses versus paying for medical care or going to work versus taking time off for a doctor’s visit
- Lack of culturally competent providers
- Cultural issues that reduce the likelihood of seeking services
- Historic separation of primary care and mental/behavioral health services even though they’re closely related
Therapeutic Care: Finding the Right Fit
Because women are wonderfully diverse, their mental and behavioral health treatment requires a similarly individualistic approach. When seeking professional support, women may consider speaking with several potential therapists and asking them about the style of their practice, specialties, and any preferred therapy modalities. During their search for a therapist who they feel comfortable with, women should feel entitled and encouraged to find a therapist who fits their needs.
The Benefits of Mental and Behavioral Health Care
Seeking mental health support can empower women, or anyone, to develop strategies for overcoming challenges, uncover and embrace their truest selves, and foster their personal growth.
Therapists and psychiatrists may guide their clients in:
- Processing and healing from any trauma or grief
- Adapting to major life changes
- Setting boundaries within their relationships and obligations
- Developing healthy, effective coping skills to help diminish any symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns
Through therapy, women can unlock their full potential while discovering ways to courageously thrive during both good and difficult times.
About the Author
Thrive Reno Therapist Lynn Carver, LCSW
Lynn Carver, LCSW, earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). She is an intensively-trained dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) therapist and is also trained in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), child-centered play therapy (CCPT), and Internal Family Systems (IFS) modalities. Lynn is also an experienced DBT educator who has trained clinicians, line staff, families, local agencies, and multiple army bases across the nation.
Her experience spans all levels of care — outpatient, inpatient, intensive outpatient, and residential — and also includes supervising clinical interns, serving in various leadership roles within agencies, and teaching undergraduates in the school of social work at UNR by Letter of Appointment (LOA). In addition to her traditional career experience, Lynn has provided pro-bono services through the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEABPD) and various community-oriented organizations.
Lynn specializes in treating children and adults with borderline personality features, trauma histories and behavioral concerns, and eating disorders as well as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and attachment issues. Her passion is helping clients create a life worth living unique to them by partnering with them to identify and reduce behaviors that interfere with their quality of life. She strives to help individuals and families learn, practice, and build mastery around more effective responses to emotional pain. In every endeavor, she is committed to continually acknowledging and advocating for the unconditional worth and value of all people.
Outside of work, Lynn enjoys being a grandmother to five granddaughters and one grandson. She loves spending time at the beach and her personal favorite quote is “Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer,” by best-selling author and marketing executive Scott Stratten.