Mental health issues affect men and women equally, yet some are more common in women than men, and vice versa.
There are a number of social and economic factors that can put women at a greater risk of poor mental health compared with men. However, is it believed that women are far more likely to talk about what they are going through and seek support through their social networks to help with their mental health.
On this page we will look into statistics covering women and mental health, delving deeper into the different types of problems and we will find out how counselling can help.
Prevalence of key mental health problems among women
Women receive more primary (day-to-day) care than men for mental health conditions, yet the difference of secondary care (hospital and specialist treatment) is less. It’s hard to say that women experience more mental health issues at the primary care level, as women are more likely to seek help in comparison to their male counterparts.1
The prevalence of key mental health problems between men and women doesn’t differ too much, but the types of conditions and the life stages when these disorders are diagnosed do differ. For example, it’s more common for young women to experience eating disorders, self-harm and depression, in comparison to young boys who are more likely to have conditions such as ADHD or substance abuse.
Depression in women is thought to be higher than in men. Although the reasons for this are unknown, biological factors such as hormonal changes and social factors such as isolation and poverty are thought to be potential causes.
1 in 4 women will seek treatment for depression at any one time.
8-15% will experience postnatal depression after giving birth.
Due to women having an increased life expectancy, they are more likely to survive their partner in comparison with men. This could trigger a move into residential care, which can cause depression because of the new psycho-social factors. Also, older people are typically faced with difficult life events that don’t occur as often as younger people. Examples include bereavement and loss of independence.
It is estimated that around 20% of older people living in their own home have depression, rising to around 40% living in care homes. The majority of these are thought to be women.
In comparison to men, women are twice as like to experience a type of anxiety disorder. It’s estimated that around 60% of those who have obsessive compulsive disorder or a phobia are women. Phobias affect around 22 in 1,000 women, yet they are only thought to affect 13 in 1,000 men.
Women (particularly younger women) are more likely to develop an eating disorder in comparison to men. In any year, 1.9% of women and only 0.2% of men develop anorexia. At any one time, between 0.5% and 1% of women experience bulimia.
Self-harm and suicide
According to research, girls are far more likely to self-harm than boys. In the UK, between one in 12 and one in 15 young people self-harm.
Approximately a quarter of people who complete suicide are women. Women’s capacity to deal with their emotions and seek help is thought to protect them from suicidal thoughts. Having children is also suspected to be a deterrent of such thoughts.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Throughout the world, more women are affected by PTSD due to the amount of exposure to sexual violence. For women, the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder after a traumatic event stands at 20.4% compared with 8.1% for men.
Two-thirds of those with dementia are women. As age increases, so does the risk of dementia and because women have a higher life expectancy compared with men, they are more likely to have it.
Social and economic factors
The role and status that women hold in society will typically have an effect on their mental health. Some of the more traditional roles women have in ethnic societies in the United Kingdom can increase the likelihood of these effects.
Some of the social factors that can affect women's mental health include:
- Women are typically more likely to care for their children or other relatives than men. This can have an adverse effect on their physical and emotional health, finances and social life.
- Women may juggle several roles within a family - they could be a partner, carer and mother as well as running the household and holding down a job.
- Women are more likely to live in poverty in comparison to men. They are also over-represented in low-status, low-income jobs that are often taken on part-time.
- Concerns about their own safety, working at home primarily on housework and poverty can all make women feel isolated.
- Sexual and physical abuse can have a devastating impact on their mental health - this is especially true if no help is sought.
When women internalise their difficulties, it has the potential to lead to problems such as eating disorders and depression. They may express their emotional pain through self-harm, where research suggests men tend to act out through violence towards others.
How can counselling help?
All of the problems stated above, among many others, can be addressed by talking therapies. They can offer you help and support to get to grips with the underlying difficulties that you are facing. There are many different types of therapy available. Although all can be effective, you may find that one approach fits your situation better than another.
Talking to a professional can be daunting at first, but it is a way to take back control of your life. You can work with a counsellor to build new ways of coping and establish healthier ways of thinking. If you are unsure of what happens in a session, you can take a look at our what is counselling page to get an idea.
If you think you are ready to speak to someone about a problem you are facing, you can search for a counsellor or psychotherapist near you by using our advanced search tool.
- 1 Pilgrim, D. (2010). Mind the gender gap: mental health in a post-feminist context.
- 2 WHO. (2004). Gender in mental health research.
- Mental Health Foundation. Women and Mental Health.