ZwavelStream Team | Mental Health LeadersFeb 15, 2018
Mental Health Rights – Are We Treated Equally in SA?Mar 5, 2018
Recent research by mental health specialists suggests that certain mental illnesses, like anxiety and depression, can be selective when it comes to gender, where women tend to be more susceptible than men.
Furthermore, studies like the one conducted by Shamima Saloojee – comparing the prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome in women and men with severe mental illness – have also shown that mental illness is closely related to physical health.
Mental Illnesses is more Common in Women than Men
Saloojee’s study, undertaken at a psychiatric unit of a general hospital in Durban, is among a few that have found there are many contributing factors resulting in the gender gap when it comes to certain mental health problems.
Genetics, nutrition, socioeconomic conditions, levels of physical activity, hormones, and other environmental factors all play a role in why a certain condition will be more prevalent in women than in men.
Four of the most common mental health issues women as a global population face include:
At least twice as many women suffer from depression than men. A strong link has been found between depression and hormones, and since a woman goes through several hormonal cycles in her lifetime – menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause – the effect on mental health is significant.
Schitzoeffective & Bipolar Disorders
One of the findings of Saloojee’s study was that women are more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. Strong links were found between genetics and sociocultural factors.
Everyone experiences stress differently, and the way women react to stress – internalizing instead of externalizing emotion – makes them more susceptible to anxiety disorders than men.
Women are exhaustively burdened with cultural standards of what they should look like. Vanity, self-control, and the self-body image are main factors that impact the development of this disorder.
Factors Affecting Mental Health in Women
The increased prevalence of mental illness in women over men has significant ties to biology, as well as to the culturally informed gendered roles women have been assigned.
This can be seen in the factors directly affecting mental health in women more so than in men:
The mothering role is generally accepted as a female one, and in many cases, when there is a family member or friend who is unwell, disabled, or needs active care in any way, the responsibility of this care falls onto women. The impact extends to emotional, mental, and physical consequences, which often leaves a woman neglecting herself in the process.
Culture, the media, age-old traditions… these all shape the world women live in today. More so, they shape the expectations of women – how they should act, what they should look like, etc. Many women feel pressured to live up to these standards. Eating disorders, depression, and body dysmorphia are just some of the ways in which mental health can be affected.
A woman’s wellbeing – both physical and psychological – is fundamentally linked to hormones. Menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, and childbirth are just a few instances where the intricate balance of hormones undergo a significant shift, paving the way for mental health problems.
Mental & Physical Health
The diagnosis of physical health problems when mental illness is present is no coincidence. Extensive research in the area has given evidence that mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are associated with increased risk of physical conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
This is why it’s so important for psychiatric hospitals to acknowledge the mind-body connection, and offer treatments that apply to the ‘whole self’ of an individual, instead of simply looking at the mental illness in a singular capacity.
In Saloojee’s study, the co-existence of mental and physical health problems is underscored, where the side effects of antipsychotic medication treating mental illness contributed to physical symptoms experienced.
Female patients in the study with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder were found to present with physical symptoms of obesity and high blood pressure, which put them at high risk for developing heart disease.
Depression clinics and much research by specialists in the mental health field have found a distinct relationship between alcoholism and depression. A seemingly endless cycle, whereby a depressed individual drinks excessively to numb the psychological effects of their condition, or an alcoholic develops depression because of the low emotional and psychological state excessive drinking induces.
A large percentage of people living with anxiety disorders are also regular smokers. The habit of excessive cigarette smoking leads to the development of chronic respiratory illnesses, like asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Inversely, someone who experiences asthma attacks is more prone to develop a panic or anxiety disorder.
What To Do
Understanding the connection between mind and body is the first step to mental and physical wellbeing. By taking control of your emotional and physical health, you will in turn be taking care of your mental health.
Communicate feelings in an appropriate manner. By internalizing and ‘bottling’ emotions, we increase feelings of stress and anxiety. Expressing how you feel is a much healthier approach. If you find the situation might be too sensitive to approach on your own, request help from a friend or family member to mediate the process.
Invest in a balanced lifestyle. Try to not obsess about problems that breed negativity. Often the bad weighs us down so much we forget about everything good. Keeping a gratitude journal is a good way to remain focused on the positive things in your life. Remember to regularly take time out of stressful situations and do things you enjoy.
Nutrition is key to a healthy body and mind. Be mindful of how you feed your body, taking care to include vital nutrients in your diet on a daily basis. This will fight feelings of bloating and fatigue.
A good exercise program not only benefits your body, but it helps keep an open and clear mind as well. Studies have proven that regular exercise results in better memory, mental clarity, and improved sleep.
The most important thing to remember is that mental illness is treatable, and doesn’t relegate you to living an unfulfilled life. Individuals who feel they might have a problem can do the Mental Health Quiz on our website to determine whether psychiatric intervention is required.
A mental health specialist on our team will then contact you to assist in taking those first steps to achieving mental and physical wellbeing.