The leading causes of disease in women such as heart disease, cancer and mental health disorders are also causes of ill health in men but they have different underlying gender-specific risk factors. Anxiety and depression are increasing more quickly in women than in men. Effective treatment requires understanding the different dimensions for women compared to men, but this understanding is often lacking. In the UK today over 20% of adult women have a common mental disorder with anxiety or mood-related disorders being the most common. (Activity in the NHS | The King's Fund (kingsfund.org.uk), How common are mental health problems? - Mind)
Some disorders are more common in younger women but anxiety is as common among older adults as the young. Key factors that can impact the occurrence and nature of anxiety in older women are hormonal changes but also fears about future health, the existence of chronic health conditions and life transitions such as retirement or children leaving home can contribute. Anxiety can also show itself differently in women over 60 with persistent and excessive worry about everyday situations. Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches, abdominal upsets or nausea. ( Senior Women | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA)
Despite growing evidence that non-drug interventions and talking therapies are effective, a growing number of particularly younger women are being prescribed medications. Women show more side effects to psychotropic medications, including greater weight gain, cardiovascular effects, and more general premature ageing, yet mental health clinicians remain largely unaware that side effects are gendered. (Trends in antipsychotic prescribing to children and adolescents in England: cohort study using 2000–19 primary care data - The Lancet Psychiatry)
The British Medical Association (BMA) published a report in 2018 updated in 2021 on “Addressing Unmet Needs in Women’s Mental Health” describing the differences between women and men in how they express mental distress, particularly in common mental disorders such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders. There are also well-known links between the risks of mental illness and the social realities of many women’s lives such as lower incomes, responsibility for childcare and other caring responsibilities as well as domestic violence. The report shows how services need to recognise and respond to the specific needs of women if care is to be personalised and effective. bma-womens-mental-health-report-aug-2018.pdf
The BMA report concentrates on the need for a gender-sensitive approach to psychiatric services but the same principles would apply to primary care or third sector services and support for women experiencing poor mental health. The report describes the characteristics of gender-sensitive services including women themselves being involved in their design and services and staff being sensitive to the diversity of women’s lives and experiences. The report calls for a greater awareness of the need for a gender-informed approach to mental health and for a workforce trained in gender differences.
Although most new developments in mental health relate to advances in drug treatments, telehealth, chatbots and app implementation for non-drug treatments are now being researched and shown to be effective. Goldster provides key non-drug interventions including meditation, journaling, creative classes and yoga and Tai Chi which can all improve mental health.