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Diagnoses most commonly given to women are;
First episodes of depression are more frequent in women than men, and are likely to result from a mixture of social, psychological and biological factors. Fluctuating hormone levels may partly explain the higher rates of depression in women; however, hormones are likely to affect other aspects of women’s lives, such as their general health, relationships and living environment, and with social factors, such as the position of women in society and the value placed on women’s roles, rather than being the sole cause of depression.
First episodes of depression in women have been linked to the onset of puberty and menstruation, childbirth, and the transition to menopause. Depression is more frequent in married than never-married women, and in unsupported mothers.
Anxiety is more frequent in women than in men, though this may partially reflect the relative unwillingness of men to seek help. Men are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol (in particular) to cope with stress problems, and are more likely to develop substance abuse problems than women.
Anxiety problems, including panic, agoraphobia, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) and PTSD, are reported up to twice as often by women as by men. People with PTSD may have a range of symptoms, including re-experiencing painful events, avoidance, muscular and emotional tension, depression, emotional numbing, drug or alcohol misuse and anger.
Disordered eating patterns, such as compulsive dieting or eating, with or without induced vomiting and purging, can affect men and women, but the overwhelming majority of those affected are girls and women aged between 14 and 25 years. Girls are becoming weight conscious as young as five years of age. Since eating disorders are more common in developed and industrialised countries, it seems likely that the main causes are social and psychological, and relate to cultural pressures on young women to look slim. Young women from other ethnicities and cultures living in the UK and USA also acquire eating disorders, and may be at greater risk than White women.
Mind has produced a booklet, Understanding eating distress, that covers these disorders in more detail, and My name is Chris, a comic-style book written for young people.
Self-Harm And Suicidal Behaviour
The majority of people who self-harm are young women. Self-harming behaviour is also significant among minority groups discriminated against by society. Someone who has mental health problems is more likely to self-harm. So are those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol, or who are faced with a number of major life problems. Women are most likely to self-harm by cutting or poisoning themselves.
A study by an Asian women’s group found that the issues affecting young women’s emotional health included domestic violence, racism, bullying, family and home life, education, work/employment, sexual abuse, and the experience of being a refugee. Non-fatal deliberate self-harm was seen by young women as one of few accessible options in the management of their distress, allowing them to maintain privacy while providing a method of release.
The majority of people who self-harm are not suicidal, but, people who self-harm are at higher risk of suicide than any other group. Men have a higher rate of suicide than women – 17.4 men per 100,000 compared to 5.3 women. Reasons for this include the idea that women form more socially supportive networks than men, since isolation appears to be a factor in suicide. However, deaths by hanging have increased among young women in recent years.
See Mind’s booklets Understanding self harm, About self-harm (written for young people), and also How to cope with suicidal feelings.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
The majority (70 per cent) of people diagnosed with BPD are women, and suicide rates are high among this group (10 per cent). BPD has been linked to a history of trauma in childhood and PTSD.