With March recognized as Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8th, we take the time to honor the many achievements and contributions of women throughout history and now. What better time to also focus on women’s mental health and examine how anxiety and depression uniquely affect women. What barriers do women face when trying to access treatment, and what can be done to remove them?
Defining Depression and Anxiety
The terms depression and anxiety are frequently discussed and used in conversations by laypeople and professionals, but what do those terms mean? What are the exact definitions of depression and anxiety?
The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology defines major depression as, “a negative affective state, ranging from unhappiness and discontent to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency, that interferes with daily life.”
Anxiety is defined as “an emotion characterized by apprehension and somatic symptoms of tension in which an individual anticipates impending danger, catastrophe, or misfortune.”
Are anxiety and depression more common in women?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in 2020, an estimated 21 million people in the United States had at least one depressive episode. The prevalence was higher in women (10.5%) than men (6.2%).
It is estimated that 19.1% of people in the United States had any anxiety disorder in the past year. As with depression, the prevalence of anxiety disorders was higher in women (23.4%) than in men (14.3%).
Depression and anxiety uniquely affect women.
Depression can uniquely affect women simply because some types of depression are found only in women, such as:
- Perinatal depression
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- Perimenopausal depression
Depression is linked to significant physical health problems in women, including:
- Heart disease – People with heart disease are almost twice as likely to have depression than those without heart disease.
- Obesity – Women diagnosed with depression are more likely to be obese than men with depression. Women with depression, especially white women, are also more likely to be obese than women who do not have depression.
- Cancer – Women with cancer are more likely than men with cancer to have depression.
Anxiety symptoms are similar between women and men. However, according to Emily Guarnotta, PsyD, women are more likely than men to develop certain types of anxiety disorders, including:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Agoraphobia and other specific phobias
Like depression, there are types of anxiety that only affect women, and they are:
- Perinatal anxiety
- Perimenopausal anxiety
Why are depression and anxiety more common in women?
A woman’s body undergoes drastic hormonal and physical changes during her life, which can lead to depression and anxiety. However, according to The Mayo Clinic, hormonal changes are not the only reason more women than men suffer from depression. Social and cultural stressors and life circumstances leading to a higher prevalence of depression in women than men include:
- Physical and sexual abuse – While men can also be victims of abuse, more women are still more likely to experience sexual abuse. Women who experience physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are more likely to have at least one depressive episode in their lives. Experiencing abuse can lead to PTSD and other anxiety disorders as well.
- Unequal power and status – Women are more likely than men to live in poverty, and although women have gained more rights and influence over the years, the balance of power still weighs in favor of men. The uncertainty of living in poverty, limited access to resources, and feelings of powerlessness can lead to depression and anxiety.
- Work overload – Many women today work full-time and even multiple jobs while juggling child care and maintaining a home. Even those with spouses or significant others are still expected to carry most of the home and childcare responsibilities. It is no wonder that stress caused by multiple massive duties can lead to depression and anxiety.
What are the barriers women face to accessing treatment?
Effective treatments for anxiety and depression are available at inpatient and outpatient levels of care. Unfortunately, women are more likely than men to encounter barriers when seeking treatment for these disorders. Barriers to treatment access that disproportionately affects women who experience depression and anxiety are:
- Erroneous assumptions
- Fear of losing custody of children
- Lack of childcare
- Inadequate financial resources
- Unreliable or no transportation
- Shame and stigma
If anything positive has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the expansion of the availability of telehealth mental health services. This treatment option can be a lifesaver for women with busy schedules or unreliable transportation.
Education regarding the symptoms of anxiety and depression and the fact that these disorders are not just standard aspects of aging, menopause, or postpartum, can help women understand that they do not have to just live with these illnesses. This understanding will hopefully serve to decrease both stigma and shame. Education and reassurance that seeking treatment for anxiety and depression is not a reason in itself for the loss of custody of children are vital.
How are the needs of women being met today?
Improved community programs for child care and free or low-cost mental health services could be helpful. States with Medicaid expansion allow more people to be insured under Medicaid, helping those members with the financial burden of psychiatric care.
During Women’s History Month and every other month, It is imperative to focus on women’s mental health and continue to push to ensure that all women have easy access to treatment for depression and anxiety. There is hope, and treatment is available. We need to make sure it is accessible to all.
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental disorders in the United States. These disorders affect more women than men. They can also affect women in unique ways. The highly-trained, expert staff at Casa Palmera have a deep understanding of this. You will receive an individualized treatment plan tailored to your individual needs. Our approach is different because your treatment plan will include leading evidence-based practices combined with eastern holistic modalities. We understand the importance of treating all aspects of psychiatric and substance use disorders. Thus, at Casa Palmera, you can expect to find help and healing for body, mind, and spirit. Every detail at our beautiful Del Mar, California facility is designed to provide our patients with an unparalleled treatment experience. If you or a family member needs help with a mental health or substance use disorder, call Casa Palmera at (855) 508-0473 to learn how we can help.