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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Self-
diagnosis 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.