May 12-18 is National Women's Health Week. Below is an excerpt from our recent title A Nurse's Guide to Women's Mental Health detailing statistics on women's mental health vis-a-vis the general population.
Women’s mental health is a great public health concern that includes women of all races, ethnicities, cultures, education levels, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses. More women are diagnosed with mental health disorders than men. In fact, women are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder even in situations where men have the same objective scores on standardized testing, and are more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medications. It is estimated that 29% of women are treated for mental health disorders compared to 17% of men (World Health Organization [WHO], 2011). The difference may be because health care professionals may view women as overemotional. Additionally, women may seek treatment of mental health–associated symptoms more frequently than men (Hattery & Smith, 2007). Table 1.1 describes major mental illnesses in women.
Most women with mental health disorders are diagnosed by primary-care providers; for this reason, the need for education regarding screening, diagnosis, and treatment of the primary-care and advanced-practice nurse is imperative. The diagnosis of mental health disorders presents a significant challenge when compared to physical disorders because there are no blood tests or neurological scans that can confirm a diagnosis. Instead, diagnosis is based on clinician observation and subjective reports from the patient. Women may underreport mental illness symptoms because of fear, stigma, family values, or cultural factors.
Societal issues play an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders in women. A diagnosis of a mental illness can be stigmatizing even in today’s society and can result in delay or avoidance of treatment. Most mental health disorders go untreated and are not identified by health care providers. Women frequently report more somatic complaints rather than specific mental health illnesses, such as depression or anxiety.
Hattery, A., & Smith, E. (2007). African American families. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
World Health Organization. (2011). Gender and women’s health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/genderwomen/en/