- Depression is prevalent among mothers and new parents. One in six mothers experience depression within a year of giving birth.
- Eating disorders are highly complex psychological conditions. Although there is evidence that men are increasingly being affected, eating disorders are predominantly thought to affect women.
- Menopause and other mid-life changes may increase the risk of anxiety and depression in women.
- Domestic and family violence is a national health problem that predominantly affects women.
Mention women’s health and the first thing that probably comes to mind is likely one of the many well-publicised physical health issues relevant to women, like breast cancer and reproductive health.
When National Women’s Health Week kicks off these and many more issues will be in the spotlight. No less important, however, are the mental health challenges that women continue to face in our society. Women’s Health Week is therefore a timely reminder of why it’s important to discuss and promote awareness of these issues.
Women’s mental health
Whether you’re holding an event, chatting with friends or family, posting online, seeking to help others, or simply finding new ways to improve your life, here are four issues in women’s mental health that are worth discussing during Women’s Health Week.
1) Depression is prevalent among mothers and new parents
Parenting is arguably the toughest job in the world. It requires full-time commitment to what is presumably the greatest responsibility in one’s life — one’s children — in addition to the many daily responsibilities of adulthood.
Pregnancy can lead to an increased risk of depression. One in ten women experience depression during pregnancy and one in six are thought to experience post-natal depression in the first year after the birth. Exacerbating the stress and worry are a combination of intense physical and hormonal changes in a mother’s body during and after pregnancy. To this can be added the enormous and non-negotiable demands of parenting as well as relentless stress, exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
In addition, primary caring responsibilities fall disproportionately on women. Women accrue 95 per cent of primary parental leave and caring for a child can increase the risk of social isolation and loneliness — and then there’s the fact that being the primary carer for children is linked to lower wages.
2) Eating disorders predominantly affect women
There are many reasons and contributing factors behind eating disorders. Although the prevalence of eating disorders appear to be increasing among boys and men, it is nonetheless thought to predominantly affect women and girls.
The very nature of these disorders can make them difficult to diagnose and manage. Indeed, despite advances in our understanding of the treatment of eating disorders, people living with these conditions are often subjected to discrimination and prejudice. Consequently, the stigma of eating disorders can significantly add to the stress of an already complex and difficult psychological condition. For instance, a common myth is that an eating disorder is an attempt to get attention or is a lifestyle choice.
Many people experiencing eating disorders either do not realise the extent to which it affects their wellbeing and physical health, or may otherwise even go to considerable lengths to mask their behaviour.
3) Menopause and other mid-life changes may cause anxiety and depression
Menopause is defined as the absence of menstrual periods for one year. While its occurrence and symptoms are common and natural, the mental health effects of menopause are likely to be less well-understood than the hot flushes, night sweats and various other physical discomforts with which menopause is typically associated.
Menopause and other mid-life changes often coincide with changes in life circumstances. There may be concerns or anxiety about ageing, children moving out or becoming fully independent, disenchantment with career, discomfort or embarrassment due to physical symptoms, or frustration due to the lack of understanding or support from family members over the condition.
Unsurprisingly, menopause can be associated with increased anxiety or depression.
As Victoria’s Royal Women’s Hospital puts it: “Menopause and other mid-life changes can also have a significant impact on a woman and seriously compromise her sense of health and wellbeing.”
4) Domestic and family violence is a national health problem
Family, domestic and sexual violence is a major social health issue in Australia, predominantly affecting women and children. In Australia, approximately one woman per week and one man per month are killed by a current or former intimate partner as a result of violence. 95 per cent of all victims of violence, both women and men, experience violence from a male perpetrator, although violence perpetrated by women, or in same sex relationships, is not uncommon.
Abuse is a complex issue not necessarily limited to physical violence and intimidation. Other forms of abuse are often associated with domestic and family violence, including abuse that is sexual, emotional, social, financial, spiritual, psychological or even abuse of children or pets.
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