It is equally important for both men and women to look after their physical and mental wellbeing. However, women can experience some mental health issues at higher rates than men and have symptoms and triggers related to these conditions specific to being female. These include
Depression, Postpartum Depression, Psychosis (Symptoms of Psychosis), and
Mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety, can happen at any time, but we know women are more likely to experience these conditions during pregnancy and in the few years following that.
This section covers conditions in women related to risk factors specific to females, which make them more vulnerable to mental health conditions including:
Understanding the risks and recognizing the signs and symptoms of these conditions can help, as early diagnosis and treatment can increase the chance of recovery. It is important to remember that effective treatments are available and with the right care most people will recover.
Women can experience any of the
mental health conditions detailed on this site. Many women face the additional stresses of work and home responsibilities, caring for children and aging parents or may experience abuse, poverty and relationship difficulties, which can contribute to their mental illness.
"…A woman is raising kids, taking care of her husband, parents and parents in law at the same time… in case she's working, she needs to take care of her job as well…and her home"
"…My husband was always working. I used to take the kids to school and malls in weekdays while in the weekends they are at home and I have to entertain them and that added stress on me…"
It is important to highlight that in some cases mental health issues in women manifest themselves in a form of chronic pain or substance misuse.
"I felt it's just severe back pain and then when I went for a treatment
they told me that I am physically fit… they told me that they think
I face depression masked in a form of back pain"
Mental Illness related to hormonal changes, pregnancy and early child rearing
Depression is a common mental illness, characterized by:
Depression is more common among women than among men. Biological, life cycle, hormonal, and psychosocial factors that women experience may be linked to women's higher depression rate. Researchers have shown that hormones directly affect the brain chemistry that controls emotions and mood. Depression affects up to 1 in 10 women while they are pregnant and almost 1 in 7 women during the first year after the birth.
Some women may also have a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD is associated with the hormonal changes that typically occur around ovulation and before menstruation begins. Also, during the transition into menopause, some women experience an increased risk of depression.
Mood change is one common side effect of using oral contraceptives (The pill) and some women do experience depression and other emotional changes whilst taking the pill.
"…I think women are generally more sensitive and emotional so they will accept their mental problems easier than men…"
Click here to learn more about the Signs and Symptoms of Depression common across all groups.
Antenatal and Postnatal Depression (PND)
Women are at an increased risk of depression during pregnancy (known as the antenatal or prenatal period) and in the year following childbirth (known as the postnatal period). You may also come across the term 'perinatal', which describes the period covered by pregnancy and the first year after the baby's birth.
The causes of depression at this time can be complex and are often the result of a combination of factors. In the days immediately following birth, many women experience the 'baby blues' which is a common condition related to hormonal changes, affecting up to 80 per cent of women. The 'baby blues', or general stress adjusting to pregnancy and/or a new baby, are common experiences, but are different from depression.
Depression is longer lasting and can affect not only the mother, but also her relationship with her baby, the child's development, the mother's relationship with her spouse and with other members of the family.
The timing for the onset of post-natal depression (PND) varies. PND often starts within one or two months of giving birth and it can last several months after having a baby. About a third of women with PND have symptoms, which started in pregnancy and continue after birth.
Having postnatal depression can affect how you feel about your baby, including:
Additional to the general symptoms of depression, women may:
"…there are many women here who can't accept their babies, it is depression… there are many women that face this and feel ashamed…"
Sometimes there is an obvious reason for PND, but not always. You may feel distressed, or guilty for feeling like this, as you expected to be happy about having a baby. However, PND can happen to anyone and it is not your fault.
There are number of risk factors for PND including;
It is never too late to seek help. Even if you have been depressed for a while, you can get better. The help you need depends on how severe your illness is. Mild PND can be helped by increased support from family and friends. If you are more unwell, you will need help from a trained health professional. If your PND is severe, you may need care and treatment from a mental health service. (Getting Help)
"A Qatar based study of postpartum depression in 2011 conducted in Primary Health Care Centers suggested a prevalence of 17.6% in women following the birth of a child"
Psychosis (also be referred to as psychotic illnesses or episodes) is when a person perceives or interprets events differently from people around them. This could include experiencing hallucinations, delusions or disorganized thinking, which can affect their thoughts and behavior.
Puerperal psychosis (a severe form of postnatal depression) or postpartum psychosis is different from postnatal depression. It is a more severe illness. There are many different ways the illness can start. Women often have symptoms of depression or mania or a mixture of these. Symptoms can change very quickly from hour to hour and from one day to the next.
Click here to learn more about the Signs of Psychosis and related illnesses.
Most commonly these episodes begin in the first two weeks after birth. Often symptoms begin in the first few days after having a baby. More rarely, the illness starts later – several weeks after the baby is born.
For many women with postpartum psychosis there may be no warning. However, if you have ever had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia or another psychotic illness, your risk of postpartum psychosis is high.
If you also have a mother or sister who has had postpartum psychosis, your risk may be even higher.
There are many symptoms that occur in postpartum psychosis (Understanding Mental Health Conditions). These may include:
Your symptoms may make it very difficult for you to look after your baby and yourself. if you have postpartum psychosis, you may not realize you are ill. Your partner, family or friends may recognize that something is wrong and need to ask for help.
Anxiety is likely to be at least as common as depression during pregnancy and the year following, and many women experience both conditions at the same time.
Anxiety is a common mental illness, characterized by:
When you feel anxious, you may have some of the following physical symptoms:
Most new mothers worry about their babies' health. If you have Post-natal depression, the anxiety symptoms can be overwhelming. You may worry that:
You may be so worried that you are afraid to be left alone with your baby and may avoid situations, such as crowded shops or situations, because you are afraid of having panic symptoms.
Preconception – Planning a pregnancy around mental health issues
If possible, you should seek specialist advice when you are planning a pregnancy.
A health professional can advise you and refer you to a psychiatrist to discuss your needs if you have current or previous mental health problems. They will review and discuss:
Advice for spouse of women with mental health conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth
If your spouse has postpartum depression or psychosis, it can be very distressing for you. At first, you may be frightened or shocked. It is important that you ask for help when your wife first has symptoms. This is particularly important if she does not recognize that she is ill. If your wife is hospitalized with the baby, you may feel very alone and isolated. You may feel frustrated that there is little you can do to help. It is important that you seek help too, if you feel you need it.
Take time for yourself and prepare for when the mother and baby return home. Once your wife and baby are home try to: