Overview – What is it?
Women are 2 times more likely to suffer from mental health conditions than men. Mental health conditions can play a significant role in the overall health of a woman and therefore, having knowledge on these issues is beneficial not only to the women but those around her as well.
For a long time, mental illnesses were thought to be rare in Africa, but with more studies, this belief has changed over the years as more women continue to be diagnosed with these conditions. Mental illnesses actually contribute greatly to the burden of disease and disability in low- and middle-income countries.
The better understanding people have on mental health conditions, the easier it will be to talk about them and get the necessary assistance for those who are dealing with such conditions.
Causes – What causes it?
When addressing the issue of mental illness especially in low- and middle-income countries, poverty cannot be overlooked. The relationship between mental illnesses and poverty is cyclical in that poverty increases the risk of mental illness due to income insecurity, increased trauma and injures and lack of resources to deal with these issues which leads to high stress levels.
There is also the gender factor. Why is it that women are at a higher risk of developing these conditions than men? The biological factor is brought about by the fact that women experience hormonal fluctuations which play a role in mood changes. They also produce less serotonin (which is a mood stabilizer) and synthesize it more slowly than men do thereby increasing their risk of mental health conditions like depression.
Socio-cultural influences which are brought about by gender inequality and the fact that women tend to be left with the responsibility of taking care of the elderly in most cases, can become a source of stress for many women, increasing their chance of suffering from mental illnesses.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Some of the mental health conditions that are common among women are depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Common warning signs that a woman might be dealing with a mental disorder include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness
- Decreased energy
- Extremely high or low moods
- Changes in weight
- Persistent headaches
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal thoughts
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Depression: This is a mood disorder characterised by a persistent feeling of sadness and a lack of interest in activities that one was previously interested in, among other symptoms causing significant impairment in everyday life. One form of depression that is very common among women is perinatal depression which starts after conception until one year after birth. Other women may experience antenatal depression which is experienced during pregnancy or postnatal depression which happens after between one month and one year after childbirth.
- Anxiety disorders: Women who suffer from anxiety disorders experience extreme feelings of worry and fear which can make it hard to carry on with their normal lives. Anxiety disorders can come in different forms like specific phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
- Dementia: This disorder, on the other hand, is a severe loss of memory that interferes with a person’s daily life.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This disorder is triggered by traumatic events like sexual violation. A woman with PTSD can experience severe emotional distress, avoid places and activities that remind her of the traumatic event or feel hopeless about the future, among other symptoms.
- Bipolar disorder: It is a disorder that causes extreme mood swings; emotional highs and lows, variation in energy levels, insomnia or sleeping too much, among other symptoms.
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): It is characterised by extreme episodes of anger, depression and anxiety which often result in impulsive actions and cause problems with a woman’s relationship with others.
- Eating disorder: Women are more likely to suffer from eating disorders than men. These disorders cause the highest mortality rates as compared to other mental health illnesses. The different types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, binge eating and bulimia nervosa.
- Schizophrenia: This mental disorder interferes with a person’s ability to interpret reality normally, causing delusions, hallucinations, and thinking and behavioural disorder thereby impairing the person’s daily functioning.
Diagnosis and Treatment
One factor that has made it difficult to deal with mental health conditions especially in low- and middle-income countries is the limited access to mental health facilities. So, how can mental illnesses be diagnosed and treated?
- Diagnosis will, in most cases, start with a physical exam to determine whether there are any physical problems that can be causing the symptoms you are experiencing.
- Lab tests: These are done to check the thyroid function and to provide a drug or alcohol abuse evaluation to determine whether these are the cause of the symptoms.
- Psychiatric evaluation: A mental health specialist talks to you about your symptoms, feelings, thoughts, feelings and behavioural patterns, information which can help in determining what condition you are experiencing and what treatment to use.
Treatment of mental health conditions depends on which condition one is suffering from. Treatment options include:
- Medication: Anti-depressants, antipsychotic, and mood-stabilizing medications are the medications usually used to treat mental illnesses.
- Psychotherapy: This involves talking to your mental health provider about your condition and related issues. By learning about your condition and symptoms, you may be able to better cope and manage the symptoms.
- Substance abuse treatment: Substance abuse occurs concurrently with mental illness and therefore, to be able to treat mental illness the drug or alcohol abuse has to be treated first or else it will interfere with mental illness treatment.
- Brain-stimulation treatment: This is used in situations where medication and psychotherapy have not worked. It can be done through electroconvulsive therapy, deep brain stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation or transcranial magnetic stimulation.
- Hospital and residential treatment programs: In some cases, the mental illness becomes so severe that the patient needs care in a psychiatric hospital. This is especially the case for patients who cannot care for themselves or are in danger of harming themselves.