Cynthia Persily, PhD, RN, FAAN
This week we’ve heard a lot about International Women’s Day, with tributes, protests, and walk-outs. While I’ve heard a lot about what a “day without women” would be like in workplaces, what I haven’t heard a lot about is women’s health and even less about women’s mental health. It’s time we started talking about this important topic.
The federal agency charged with overseeing substance abuse and mental health programs, SAMSHA, indicates that last year about 25% of women had a diagnosable mental health problem. While mental health problems affect both genders, women may be more prone to certain mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. But why?
First, biology has an impact. Hormonal fluctuations may make women more prone to mental health disorders. In addition, the stressors that come along with traditional sociocultural roles may be linked to some mental health conditions. Moreover, estimates of lifetime exposure to violence for women range from 16-50%, leading to increased possibility of anxiety and panic disorders as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Women also may present with different symptoms of mental health conditions than men, making mental health issues more difficult to diagnose. For instance, women may present to a primary care provider with fatigue, nausea, restlessness or insomnia. All providers must recognize that mental health issues should be included in the diagnostic process for women with these symptoms. Mental health conditions in women, when left untreated, have severe consequences for the entire family-substance abuse, suicide attempts, and child neglect can result.
The good news is that mental health conditions are treatable. While we celebrate women this week and this year, let’s be sure to protect their health and mental health by assuring that they receive appropriate information, assessment and access to treatment for their mental health concerns. As access to health care services for women are seemingly every day more at risk, we need to consider not only what a “day without women” would be like in the workplace, but also what a day, month, year, or lifetime of suffering by women with mental health issues will do to the fabric of our society.