What are Women’s Issues?
Today, more than 29 million women in America (or approximately 23%) struggle with mental illness. Women’s issues represent a broad scope of mental health concerns and conditions that women may face at some point in their lives. Some are specific to the female experience while others can affect all genders. Regardless, women may experience these concerns differently. Women’s issues can significantly impact the daily lives and overall well-being of women, and through education and awareness, not only may these issues be better understood by others, but also better understood by the women they are affecting.
There are many issues women may face throughout their lifespan, and while each woman is different, and thus may struggle with different issues, some of the most common includes:
- Depression – More than just feeling sad, depression is a chronic illness that can plague a woman for a particular period or can be ongoing for her entire life. Depression affects the mind as well as the body. Depression has many emotional and physical symptoms, and in severe cases, women may experience suicidal thoughts. Some of the most common signs of depression are feeling hopeless, lack of motivation, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, isolating oneself socially, irritability, and overall sadness that persists no matter what a person does.
- Anxiety – Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety in their lives, whether it’s worrying about an upcoming social situation or feeling nervous about public speaking. In most people. these feelings are normal. For other people, however, an anxiety disorder can be all-consuming and debilitating. Women who suffer from anxiety disorders can find carrying out even the simplest daily tasks to be overwhelming and they spend much of their days in a state of stress and panic. The most common anxiety symptoms are obsessive thoughts, constantly feeling nervous or on edge, racing heart, difficulty breathing, sleep problems, and rumination about past traumatic events.
- Eating Disorders – When people think of eating disorders they typically think of anorexia and bulimia, however, there are many other types of eating disorders including binge eating disorder and orthorexia. Eating disorders are not actually so much about the food, and the disorder and associated behaviors are typically a symptom of a deeper issue. Although the underlying issue may be different for each person, the common thread is typically rooted in a person’s beliefs about themselves from early childhood. When a woman suffers from an eating disorder, it’s common for her to have low self-worth, experience feelings of depression, social isolation, anxiety around eating and weight gain, and have obsessive thoughts about food. Eating disorders can affect all genders but are most commonly found in women.
- Postpartum Depression – A form of clinical depression, postpartum depression occurs after childbirth. Postpartum depression can begin immediately following birth or can take some time to present develop. In some women, it can subside in a few weeks while others may struggle for years, especially if they do not receive help. The severity of postpartum depression spans a wide spectrum, from mild sadness to postpartum psychosis. The most prevalent symptoms of postpartum depression include loss of appetite, low energy and motivation levels, irritability, anxiety, lack of bonding with the baby, and sleeplessness.
- Bipolar Disorder – Formerly known as manic-depression, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder caused by the brain. Bipolar disorder can begin suddenly or develop slowly over time. It is characterized by severe mood swings from high-high to low-low, or between mania and depression. While mood swings are normal for everyone, suffering from bipolar disorder may be crippling and make carrying out normal daily tasks seem impossible. When a person has bipolar disorder, they may experience several mood cycles each year, while other’s moods may change from depression to mania daily, which is known as rapid-cycling.
- Borderline Personality – Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition characterized by negative thoughts and disturbances. The emotional suffering caused by borderline personality disorder makes it difficult for a person to live a “normal” life and even the smallest setback in a day can seem catastrophic and overwhelming. Women who have borderline personality disorder experience feelings of fear, paranoia, reckless behavior, irritability, depression, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, and violent outbursts.
- Domestic Violence – There are many types of domestic violence, some of which can take place in childhood and others which a woman may face in her current situation. Domestic violence may be emotional, physical, verbal, or psychological. Some of the most common ways that domestic violence presents itself are through name-calling, stalking, violence, humiliation, and manipulation by the abuser. When a woman is in an abusive relationship, she may feel worthless, depressed, isolated or anxious. Women who are in violent or abusive relationships often come to believe that they deserve to be abused or that it’s their fault.
- Sexual Abuse – Sexual abuse can take many forms, from sexual harassment to rape, but the underlying thread is that the abuser exerts power over their victim through unwanted sexual acts. And although a person of any gender can experience sexual abuse, women are, by far, most commonly victimized. Women who have suffered from sexual abuse often blame themselves, rationalizing the abuse as their fault for dressing a certain way, behaving a certain way, drinking too much, etc. While the sexual abuse itself is hugely traumatic, women who have been sexually abused also often experience depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), struggle to form relationships, feel unsafe in future sexual situations, and for some, they may even experience suicidal thoughts.
- Discrimination – Throughout history women have experienced many forms of oppression, and many of these sexist or discriminatory practices continue today. Women still struggle with equal treatment and pay in the workplace, sexual harassment, derogatory comments from men, feeling unsafe in certain situations, and general feelings of oppression. When a woman is discriminated against or treated unfairly, it can take its toll, mentally, over time. Women may come to believe that they deserve this type of treatment and may have feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and depression after experiencing persistent gender discrimination.
- Hormonal Changes – While every woman experiences hormonal changes throughout her life, some women can struggle with these changes and experience both mental and physical difficulties as a result. The most significant hormonal changes that women experience are puberty, pregnancy and the postpartum period, and menopause. Many women struggle with the physical and emotional changes that take place in their bodies during each of these hormonal phases and may experience mood changes that are more drastic than what is considered to be normal. The emotional challenges that occur with hormonal changes leave many women susceptible to anxiety and depression.
- Infertility – Infertility can be a devastating experience for women who are trying to get pregnant. Most women assume they will be able to get pregnant when they are ready, yet this not the reality for many women, resulting in feelings of despair, hopelessness, and blame. It’s common for women who are struggling with infertility to experience depression, emotional trauma, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and jealousy or resentment.
- Low Self Esteem/Self Worth – Many women experience low self-esteem at some point in their lives, but for others, this is a more serious concern. Self-esteem issues often have deep roots that may be traced back to childhood, an abusive relationship, or bullying. When a woman experiences self-esteem issues she may experience obsessive negative thoughts, feelings of being unloved, helplessness, feeling unwanted, insecurity, and may be attracted to destructive relationships that validate these feelings. These feelings associated with low self-esteem can add to an ongoing cycle of shame and self-loathing that is difficult to break without seeking help.
Why Seek Therapy for Women’s Issues?
These women’s issues can have serious emotional, physical, and mental health effects that run deeper than what’s considered to be normal. They vary in severity from mild to extreme, and in many cases, women are not able to cope with these issues on their own. Therapy pairs women with an experienced professional who can assist them in coming to terms with their unique issues and help them seek the treatment they need to improve their health and mental well-being.
Treatment Options for Women’s Issues
Depending on the presenting issue and the individual circumstances, there are various treatments and types of therapy available to address women’s issues. A treatment plan for any mental health concern typically consists of talk therapy (psychotherapy), medication, or a combination of the two (which is often the most effective approach).
- Psychotherapy – Women’s issues are often treated with psychotherapy, which is essentially talk-therapy or counseling. Psychotherapy may take place with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. The goal of talk therapy is allowing women to understand their underlying issues, the concerns or mental health conditions they are currently facing, and to give them tools and strategies for changing their behaviors or dealing with painful experiences.
- Behavioral Therapy – While there are several different types of behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly used (and effective) forms of therapy. For women’s issues, CBT could be helpful in identifying the unhelpful thought patterns that lead to difficult emotions, and thus, unhealthy behaviors. CBT can also help clients then begin to replace those thoughts with more neutral or positive ones. and learn to change them to be more positive and realistic.
- Medication – Depending on the particular issue and the circumstances unique to the woman, some issues might be treated with psychiatric medications. There are many different classes of psychiatric medications such as anti-anxiety agents, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, etc. Of course, it is vital to work with a doctor or psychiatrist to find the medication (and dosage) that is the best fit.
- Alternative Therapies – There are many alternative types of therapy that can be helpful for a wide range of issues, or as an excellent addition to more traditional treatment plans. Some common alternative approaches include mindfulness and meditation, diet and exercise, creative/art therapy, biofeedback, hypnosis, and social support groups.
What to Look for in a Therapist
The most important thing for women to remember when seeking help for any mental, physical, or emotional issue is that they are not alone. There are counselors in any city across the country, as well as medical doctors and online therapists who can assist a woman in coping with or overcoming an issue that she struggles with. Deciding to seek therapy is an essential first step in healing that women should feel proud of.
When looking for a therapist, it’s important to choose an individual whom you feel comfortable to share and build a trusting relationship with. While some women prefer a female therapist, that is not to say only female therapists are capable of dealing with women’s issues. It is encouraged to make an initial appointment with a couple of therapists, as finding a good “fit” may not happen with the first therapist you identify. Other things to consider when looking for a therapist are the finances and/or insurance policies accepted, the location, and the therapist’s area of focus.
It is important for women to look for practitioners who have an area of focus related to their specific issue(s). Most therapists will specialize in one or more areas, so you can seek out help from someone trained in eating disorders, sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, etc. Finding a therapist whose professional focus aligns with your specific issues improves the chances of effective therapy.
Further Resources for Women’s Issues
For women facing any of these or any other mental or emotional issues, it can be extremely beneficial to do further reading on their particular concerns or to seek the support of other women who have similar experiences.
If you are new to therapy, there are some things to know to help you get the most benefit from therapy sessions. This information can help you prepare for your first visit, answer questions about therapy, and potentially ease any anxieties you may have about beginning therapy.
Look for online resources, blogs, or-e-books that provide tools and strategies that are useful in helping women come to terms with their issues, learn about their treatment options, and begin to seek therapy.
- Benetti-McQuid, J., & Bursik, K. (2005). Individual differences in experiences of and responses to guilt and shame: Examining the lenses of gender and gender role. Sex Roles. 53(½).
- Jackson, P. (2011). Mental health symptoms of women in domestic violence relationships. Research Papers. Paper 77.
- Major, B., Appelbaum, M., Beckman, L., et. al. (2009). Abortion and mental health: Evaluating the evidence. American Psychologist. 64(9), 863-890.