A recent survey by NHS has found out that women are at a higher risk of developing mental health disorders than men. Young women are more likely to experience a range of mental disorders as the numbers have increased exponentially more in women than in men. The study was published in BMJ.
The survey called the ‘Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey’ is conducted every seven years and is based on interviews with people aged 16 and more who had a mental problem like anxiety, depression, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder. It was found that 13.2% men had a mental disorder as compared 20.7% women who were mentally ill.
The numbers have grown since the first survey in 1993 which announced that about 7% of people had a mental disorder as compared to 17% of people now while the rates have remained stable in men throughout the years.
Particularly vulnerable to mental health problems are young women from 16 to 24 years of age as 26% of young women had symptoms as compared to 9.1% of men. The incidents of self-harming has also increased in women of these ages with 19.7% of young women reporting self-harming in 2014. The rates of PTSD and alcohol abuse was also seen more in young women.
Dr Kate Lovett, Dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, noted that these statistics are disturbing and there are a number of hypothesis to support this. “Women are more likely to be subject to interpersonal and relationship violence,” she says. “They are more likely to be financially dependent, and they are more likely to have responsibilities and burdens related to child rearing.”
But she says that there is no complete answer as to why mental health disorders are higher in young women. It may be because, unfortunately, young women are the people who have come of age with social media.
The Mental Health Foundation of UK seconds these claims and says that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. 10% of mothers and 6% of fathers have mental problems but suicide rates are lower in women than in men with 22% of women as compared to 78% of men committing suicide.
Mental health services in the UK are few and far between, have long waiting queues and sometimes lack specialists. However, public spending of health services, is more focused on coping with the crisis of mental disorders than finding a way of preventing it.
Mental health research receives only 5.5% of the total UK health research spending while the estimated cost of mental health services accounts for 4.5% of the GDP which is greater than services for either cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, cancer or diabetes.
There is also a strong link between physical problems and mental disorders. Studies have shown that 30% of people with a physical health problem also have a mental disorder but 46% of people with a mental disorder have a physical health problem. For example, 19.1% of women had common mental disorder (CMD) as compared to 12.2% of men.
Why Are Women More Prone To Mental Health Problems?
Female sex hormones and brain chemistry affects women more deeply than men and the reason is that their behavior and reactions are dependent on their hormones.
Paul J Rosch, MD, FACP president of the American Institute of Stress says that men have higher androgen levels while women have higher estrogen levels, therefore, women handle stressful situations differently than men and don’t have much of a “flight or fight” mechanism.
However, life goes easier on them during pregnancy and childbirth as their body produces oxytocin, a natural hormone which increases happiness, in addition to increased levels of estrogen and reduced levels of testosterone. Oxytocin is also released during orgasms in both sexes.
Rosch says that women need more oxytocin than men to maintain their emotional health and feel more pressure than men in relationships.
Some experts have also noted a change in the menstrual cycle in women handling work, children and relationships, all of which is due to a huge increase in mental pressure.
Due to the abundance in mental pressure, it can trigger a lot of stressors which affect physical health and can lead to numerous health issues, including eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, stomach ailments, skin problems, changes in sleep problems and heart diseases.
Among all these problems, anorexia and bulimia are most common reactions to stressors in young women.
Moreover, some experts have also blamed social media for triggering mental health disorders in women. They say the sudden surge in social media can make people feel isolated, especially those who struggle to maintain relationships.
The anonymous nature of internet makes it easier for people to make nasty comments which can spread instantaneously, adversely affecting the mental health of a person.
What young men sometimes tend to shrug it off, experts say that women are more likely to be affected by such incidents and can make them feel insecure even in the comfort of their own homes.