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Women’s mental health - Understanding the unseen struggles

Women’s mental health
Women’s mental health

Women and mental health intersect intricately as they navigate roles as mothers, daughters, daughters-in-law, and career-driven individuals. They face unprecedented challenges and stressors as they go through this complex web of roles. Let’s try to understand the unique pressures that women face, and explore some of the women’s mental health issues and the contributing factors.

How do mental health issues affect women?

  • Mental health issues impact men and women differently. Research indicates that common mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety are 2 to 3 times more common among women than among men.  Statistics also reveal that women are more than three times as likely to experience eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders than men.

  • According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), depression is the most common mental health illness among Indian women, accounting for almost 40% of cases. The WHO states that the burden of depression is 50% higher for females than males: it is not surprising that suicide rates among young Indian women are among the highest in the world.

What are the different factors that affect women’s mental health?

Hormonal influences

Mental health in women is markedly impacted by hormonal variations compared to men. Estrogen, a key female hormone, fluctuates throughout the menstrual cycle of women. The symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, tension, migraine, sleep disturbances, sadness, and lack of concentration occur more frequently during the premenstrual and menstrual phases. The hormonal shifts also affect serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to well-being, resulting in heightened anxiety, and sadness contributing to Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).  


Many women are affected by Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), an extreme form of premenstrual syndrome, which significantly disrupts daily life, work, and relationships due to acute emotional and physical symptoms.


In addition, pregnancy sometimes can bring about antenatal depression, marked by emotional upheavals amid expected happiness, driven by hormonal shifts and concerns about parenthood. New motherhood, with hormonal shifts and societal pressures, often leads to postpartum depression (PPD), impacting a notable proportion of new mothers. Risk factors for developing postpartum depression include having a low income, child gender issues, (the birth of a daughter when a son was preferred), experiencing relationship challenges with in-laws, husbands and parents, facing adverse life events during pregnancy, and lacking physical assistance.

Perimenopause and menopause also escalate the risk of depression and anxiety.

Perimenopause is the transitional period before menopause (the end of women’s menstrual cycles). During perimenopause, levels of estrogen start to decrease. Declining levels of estrogen can induce mood swings, diminished ability to handle stressors, heightened irritability, anxiety, and sadness. For many women, these hormonal fluctuations may trigger a major depressive episode.

Sociocultural aspects

In many societies, girl children receive less validation and are encouraged to be submissive, leading to a diminished sense of self-worth. This lack of validation and the expectation to suppress their own opinions can contribute to a higher risk of mental health issues, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, and anxiety.

Body image issues

Mental health in women can also be negatively impacted by body image issues, which are aggravated by skewed cultural standards of perfection and beauty. This pressure begins during childhood and is reinforced by the media’s constant promotion of beauty and complexion. Society remains highly fixated on outward appearances and values women who are perceived to be more physically attractive.


This "pretty privilege" phenomenon awards undue societal advantages to individuals deemed conventionally attractive. As a result, women who are perceived as not meeting societal beauty standards often experience low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, body dysmorphic disorders, and eating disorders.


Women are disproportionately affected by physical and emotional abuse compared to men and are more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

About 30% of women encounter intimate partner violence worldwide.  A recent United Nations report sheds light on the alarming prevalence of domestic violence against married women in India, revealing that approximately two-thirds of them have experienced such abuse. Disturbingly, up to 70% of married women aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to various forms of violence including physical assault, rape, or coerced sexual activity. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a prevalent mental health condition, can develop following exposure to such traumatic events among women.

Multiple roles

Women are expected to manage many roles, including caretaking for the family and managing household duties, often without recognition. This imbalance and the pressure caused by multiple societal roles and overworking in all these roles without regard for their own needs or identity can lead to significant stress, depression, and poor mental health in women.

Why is seeking help necessary?

As is apparent from the above, women often face a multitude of mental health concerns due to biological, societal, and cultural factors. Cultural taboos can hinder them from seeking treatment or openly discussing their issues, leading many to suffer in silence. It's crucial to actively pursue mental health treatment and recognize signs such as persistent sadness, mood swings, anxiety, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Fortunately, various forms of help are available, including individual therapy, group therapy, medication, meditation, and mindfulness to address female mental health concerns. Understanding common challenges, recognizing signs, and exploring treatment options can foster a supportive environment for women's mental health and well-being, enabling them to lead fulfilling lives.


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