Women’s mental health: Understanding the Gender Gap

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Times are changing.

            The role of of women in the US has dramatically evolved over the years, yet, we haven’t come nearly as far as we would have hoped. We’ve all read, probably again and again, that as women have taken on more responsibilities outside of the home, they have not been able to relinquish much in the way of responsibilities at home, either.

            While some women occupy the highest level roles throughout the workforce, study after study demonstrates that many women feel stretched thin filling all of these roles, but face enormous internal and societal pressure to succeed, even be perfect at each and every role. To be the perfect student, mother, wife, friend, daughter, and executive.

            As each role requires time and mental bandwidth, guilt and anxiety often seep in. “Should I have skipped that call at the office to stay home with one of my children?”  “Can I really justify spending an hour at the gym to myself?”

            It’s no secret that women often face inequality. Statistics show a clear gender gap in pay. National headlines help put these issues in spotlight, but a solution has yet to emerge or be adopted. Of additional importance to women, are gender associated risk factors.

Gender Specific Risk Factors

            Mental illness doesn’t discriminate against age, race, sex, or income, but there are some risk factors specific to women. For example, women are more likely to be victims or sexual assault than their male counterparts. Sexual assault survivors often experience high levels of distress accompanied by feelings of anger, shame, guilt, and sadness.

            These feelings can be symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Women might experience nightmares, intrusive thoughts and fell as though they are never really safe. PTSD can cause distrust in relationships and lead to further depression and anxiety.

Unequal Balance of Roles

            Women are all too often associated as the subordinate sex. Women still bare the perpetual responsibility of caring for others. A women’s role as wife, mother, sister, friend, volunteer, entrepreneur, caregiver and so on can contribute to high stress levels and anxiety.  It’s no surprise that women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.  

Wine-Mom Culture

            Society also tells us that wine solves everything!

            If you scroll through your social media feed, you’ll likely find some lighthearted endorsements of alcohol as a coping mechanism for the many demands of marriage, work, and family. While most moms have laughed at, and probably themselves made such jokes, because, let’s face it, we’ve all been overwhelmed, we also need to be mindful that for many women, this is no laughing matter. Alcohol and other substances, including opiates, can develop into overuse, perhaps initially as a means of coping with all of these demands, and the vast uncertainty involved. For some mothers, the need for treatment of substance use disorders is very real.

Perfection and Social Media 

            Perfectionism can destroy one’s mental health. Modern day social media amplifies our need to be perfect and can set unrealistic standards because self-perception is everything! You can Photoshop your way to happiness and add a filter to hide your imperfections. Life is great on social media but social media is not real life.

            These unrealistic standards can cause pressure, stress, anxiety. Post worthy performance and appearance become intertwined with, or even take the place of, self worth.  Increasingly, social media engagement can lead to comparisons that only women to feel ashamed of what they have achieved, of their perceived physical imperfections, their inadequacies as a mothers or wives, and ultimately,  of who they are. This type of comparison can contribute to negative self talk, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.

            Fortunately, there is help for the psychiatric illnesses that are over-represented in women. Psychotherapy and psychopharmacology can help women navigate internal and external challenges.

            For general information, please feel free to email our office at Amanda@psychiatristsnyc.com. To schedule an appointment, call our offices at (917) 982-2184.

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