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One of the greatest challenges facing our healthcare system is the fight against mental illness. The stigma facing those suffering from a mental illness is one of the main reasons that mental health concerns are so difficult to diagnose and manage. And while we are all used to hearing that men are particularly hesitant to see a doctor when something is wrong, you might be surprised to hear that women are actually much less likely than men to seek help for a mental health concern. In this article, we take a closer look at women’s mental health, the stigma attached to it, and what can be done about breaking down this stigma.

Women’s mental health statistics 

In Australia, one in six women will suffer from depression in their lifetime. Add that to one in three women who will suffer from anxiety, and according to ABS data, more than one in 10 women experience “very high levels” of psychological distress. Needless to say, these statistics (which were reported on in 2018) have grown due to the pandemic, which meant more isolation for many women as well as difficulty reaching out for help from overburdened or unavailable health services. 

Under-diagnosing or misdiagnosing mental illness continues to be a problem in the health-care industry. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that at least half of patients who meet the criteria for a psychological illness are not identified as such by doctors. Here are some statistics that put women’s mental health into perspective: 

  • Women are twice as likely to be affected by generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) than men.
  • Women are 70% more likely to be affected by a serious mental health issue. 
  • Women who experience domestic violence are four times more likely to experience depression and less likely (and able) to access support than other women. 
  • Women are more likely to experience multiple serious mental health concerns at once.
  • Women are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and tend to wait much longer after symptoms arise to seek diagnosis and treatment.
  • Women are 10 times more likely than men to develop an eating disorder. 

Treating women’s mental health concerns 

A study by the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University found that women are less likely to seek help than men for a mental health concern, and that this is largely due to the stigma they face. The study uncovered that women avoid seeking help for their mental health to prevent family, friends, colleagues and the wider community from ‘thinking less of them’. This is obviously worrying, especially given the amount of effort that has gone into breaking down mental health stigma in Australia and throughout the rest of the world. 

Unfortunately, the pandemic has made seeking help even more of a challenge for many women, as the stresses at work and home have grown greater, and many women experience more pressure to seem capable, try to avoid seeming like a burden, or minimalise their mental health as a priority because of all that’s going on around them and throughout the world. Furthermore, access to help has become more limited due to lockdowns, for example. (That’s why, here at Integrated Health Specialists, we began offering online telehealth sessions; to ensure that access is not an obstacle to mental health treatment.)

If you or a woman you know and love may be struggling with their mental health, there are some key things to be aware of, including: 

  • Every person (man, woman, child, young, old) experiences mental health challenges in their own way, but there are some key differences in the way women experience these things. 
  • Women experience types of depression that are unique to women, including postpartum depression, depression related to perimenopause, or perinatal depression, just to name a few.  
  • Women are more likely to experience depression during pregnancy or within a year of giving birth than at other times in their lives. 
  • Being closely related to someone with an eating disorder can make a woman more likely to experience one herself, and symptoms can be hard to recognise. 
  • Body dysmorphia, a form of anxiety relating to one’s appearance, is more common in women than men and can be very difficult to recognise and treat due to the societal beauty standards that women are subject to (therefore worrying about one’s appearance seems like just a normal part of being a woman).
  • Although women tend to drink less alcohol than men, they can become addicted more easily and be less likely to recognise a problem. The same goes for substance abuse and other addictions. 
  • Transgender women are far more likely to experience mental health concerns (and are far more likely to attempt suicide) than other women. 
  • Women tend towards being ‘caregivers’ and therefore put their own needs second to those around them. This means it often takes women much longer to seek help, if they seek help at all. 
  • While the stigma around mental health occurs for both men and women, the types of stigma affecting women can differ greatly (and can include fear of being called ‘emotional’ or ‘hysterical’ for example). 

Although there are many types of help women can seek for their mental health, seeing a qualified practitioner is important. Your counsellor or psychologist should not only be qualified but should have the relevant experience and training. This ensures you are getting expert help when you need it most. 

Tips from the healthcare profession for achieving ‘good mental health’ for women include getting enough exercise, eating a balanced diet, and practicing mindfulness. While these things are important, we understand that your mental health is so much more complex than that. 

Here at Integrated Health Specialists, we are highly trained and qualified in treating many of the mental health concerns affecting women. But our approach goes beyond simply treating the symptoms. We offer a range of services to treat the whole you, including both mind and body. From hypnotherapy, to counselling and psychology, to nutritional psychology, and more. We help women every day to overcome depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns, in a safe and supportive space without stigma. For expert support and strategies for managing your mental health as a woman, get in touch with us today.  

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen