As women, our experiences with mental health are often different than men’s. We commonly have symptoms and risk factors that are unique and contribute to the development of a mental illness. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to emphasize the specific effect mental health disorders have on women, especially those in recovery.
Mental Illness in Women
Nearly one in five adults in the United States experienced a mental illness in the last year. Women had a higher prevalence of mental health disorders than men in 2020. According to NIDA1, 25.8% of the female population had a mental illness during the last year. This is compared to only 15.8% of men who had mental health issues over the same time period. Women also receive treatment for mental illness at a higher percentage than men. 51.2% of adult women participated in mental health care in 2020. Serious mental illness, defined as a mental health disorder that causes significant impairment in daily functioning, affected 7% of all females. This number is also higher than men in the same category.
As a whole, women experience mental illness more commonly than men, but they are also more likely to seek treatment. There are a few possible reasons for these higher numbers, including life experiences, the stigma associated with treatment, and biological factors.
Mental Health Risk Factors
The risk factors for developing a mental health disorder are similar for women and men, but some may have a greater impact depending on gender. Some of the most common contributing factors2 to a mental illness are:
Genetics or Family History of Mental Illness
Women who have family members that have either been diagnosed with or exhibit symptoms of mental health disorders are more likely to develop a mental illness themselves.
History of Trauma or Abuse
When a woman experiences a traumatic event or abuse in her life, she may struggle to cope with this. In response to this event, her mind may go into protection mode. When women are unable to effectively process difficult moments in life, they often develop unhealthy coping mechanisms that lead to mental health disorders.
Chronic Medical Conditions
Managing a chronic medical condition is both a physical and emotional challenge. Without proper support, women can develop mental health disorders. This is especially true for those who are diagnosed with a terminal disease.
Drug or Alcohol Use
Using drugs or alcohol increases the likelihood that someone will have a diagnosed mental illness. When someone has both a mental health disorder and is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they are said to have a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnoses are complex and require specialized treatment from experienced mental health professionals.
Symptoms of Mental Illness in Women
Depending on what type of mental illness a woman has, the symptoms will vary. The major warning sign that someone has a diagnosable mental health disorder is when emotions or behavior impair their ability to function normally. This could look like difficulty maintaining work or school commitments, increased isolation, lack of consistent hygiene practices, or avoidance of triggering situations. Other common symptoms of mental illness include:
- Episodes of extreme panic or anxiety
- Persistent sadness
- Unpredictable emotions
- Lack of awareness of reality (hearing or seeing things that are not present)
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Lack of motivation
Note: This is not a replacement for medical advice. If you or someone you love are exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, reach out to a medical or mental health professional to discuss your concerns.
Mental Health in Recovery
Women who are managing addiction recovery and a mental illness are tasked with unique challenges. Substance abuse is often a coping skill that could be the result of an existing mental illness. Likewise, a mental health disorder could develop after someone begins using drugs or alcohol. Treating both diagnoses concurrently means helping women develop healthy coping mechanisms while processing through contributing life experiences. Finding a balance in treating these together is vital to helping this person maintain their sobriety.
Support for Women with a Dual Diagnosis
At Canyon Crossing Recovery, we specialize in treating women who have a dual diagnosis of a mental health and substance use disorder. We understand the unique challenges women in recovery face, especially those who are also working to manage a mental illness. Our Arizona center offers a variety of levels of treatment to best meet your needs. Whether you would benefit from residential treatment or need outpatient care, our team is here to support you. At Canyon Crossing, we want you to know you are not alone, and that there is hope for your addiction and mental health disorder. If you’re looking for a treatment program that specializes in caring for women with an addiction, contact our team today.