Mental Health in Women

There are many things that might impact a woman’s mental health. Some of these worries might be related to gender stereotyping or assumptions and concerns related to women’s health, but they can also include other challenges faced by women. It is best to avoid making assumptions based on gender as a person’s identity is multifaceted and no single aspect defines a person entirely. Women may experience particular biological, environmental, and psychosocial challenges related to gender and these anxieties may have a significant impact on mental health and well-being.

Understanding Mental Health in Women

Some mental and physical health fears women face may be related to gender. Not only are women more likely to experience mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety, but women may also experience mental distress at a higher rate than men do. Challenges faced by women may occur more as a result of gender-based stereotypes, assumptions, or some other cause. Biological, environmental, and psychosocial factors may at least partially contribute to the development of certain mental and physical health concerns. These may be somewhat impacted by gender but a woman may easily develop concerns that have nothing to do with gender. Issues such as gender socialization, the prevalence of domestic violence, and lower socioeconomic status can all contribute to health disparities. A single mother who has a full-time job but still finds it a challenge to pay her bills each month may be at a greater risk for depression, anxiety and stress. Pressure to succeed both at home and work often has a negative impact on mental health.

Mental Health Care in History

In terms of mental health, women have historically faced disproportioned scrutiny for thousands of years. Terms such as crazy, hysterical, and mad have been used for generations, stigmatizing and diminishing the experiences of women facing both mental and physical health challenges. In the late 1800’s, when psychology was in its infancy, mental health treatment for women was not widely practiced. Often referred to as the “weaker sex”, women were considered to be fragile and more emotional than men. Hysteria, a label used to diagnose a number of “symptoms” women may exhibit, was considered to be a disease, experienced exclusively by women. Women who behaved in ways and held beliefs not according to the social norms of the time were often diagnosed with hysteria and a wide array of protocols were employed to treat hysteria and other similar problems. These “treatments” often included involuntary commitments (sometimes for life), sexual interventions, lobotomies, hydrotherapy, and electroshock therapy.

Mental Health Care Today

Today, mental health care in women has vastly improved, but additional improvements may further support the effective treatment of mental health concerns among women. Women are more likely than men to develop a mental illness as women tend to view themselves more negatively than men and that is a vulnerability factor for many health problems. While research indicates women may be more likely to experience a mental health concern, not all women will experience a health challenge, and a mental or physical health concern may be experienced in different ways. Some mental health concerns commonly experienced by women include:

• Depression
• Anxiety
• Postpartum Depression
• Postpartum Psychosis
• Posttraumatic Stress
• Eating Disorders
• Borderline Personality
• Mood-Related Challenges
• Self-Harming Behaviours

Social and Cultural Issues

Both mental health professionals and those seeking treatment may wish to maintain an awareness of the various social and cultural constraints woman may experience. Traditionally, women were typically assigned the roles of caretakers and nurturers, while in reality, they are capable of being caretakers, providers, nurturers, professionals, and holding any number of roles. Evolving roles and less emphasis on identity-based on gender have helped some challenges in these assigned roles, but women often still face a sociocultural challenge that contributes to a greater risk of mental and physical health concerns.

• Sexism/Oppression: Women have experienced some degree of oppression in many cultures across history. This discrimination, which still happens today, can stifle the growth, development, and general well-being of women around the world. Women may be forced into marriage, denied basic rights, and excluded from certain professions. Even today, women are still underrepresented in many fields and are often paid a lower wage than men.

• Abuse/Intimate Partner Violence: Women are statistically more likely to be victims of abuse and intimate partner violence. Surviving these types of abuse may influence the development of depression, posttraumatic stress, or anxiety.

• Adverse Portrayal in Society and The Media: Media portrayals of women may skew expectations of what women “should” look like. Many studies have explored the link between self-esteem/self-worth and exposure to the media’s representation of the “ideal” female. The frequent media depiction of women as sex symbols can be problematic as women may often be socially expected to maintain both the image of chasteness and be available to men who pursue them. The clothing choices and sexual behaviour of women and young girls are often both policed by society in general.


Another major issue unique to women is the complexity and significance of motherhood. The ability to reproduce and carry a child may bring joy and satisfaction, but the prospect of motherhood also delivers a number of potential health risks. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and aging sometimes bring emotional challenges to them. Challenges also arise when women encounter problems with infertility, postpartum depression, and a range of concerns about sex and sexuality. In addition to the effects of mental health, these concerns can have a lasting effect on both mother and child. A mother’s mental health can impact the mental health of a child. If the child develops behavioural and emotional problems, this can place added stress on the mother, thus establishing a cycle of challenges for the entire family