Hesperian Health Guides
Common Causes of Mental Health Problems in Women
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To have better mental health, women need to have more control and power over their lives.
Not everyone who has to cope with the problems listed below will develop a mental health problem. Rather, a woman usually develops a mental health problem when these pressures are stronger than her ability to cope. Also, not all mental health problems have causes that can be identified. Sometimes we just do not know why someone develops a mental health problem.
Stress in daily life
Daily activities and events often put pressure on a woman, causing tension in her body and mind (stress). Stress can come from physical problems, like illness or overwork. Or it can come from emotional events, like conflict in the family or being blamed for problems that a woman has no control over. Even events that often bring pleasure—like a new baby or getting a job—can be stressful because they create changes in a woman’s life.
It is easy not to notice the stress in daily life because it is always there. But it takes a lot of a woman’s energy to cope with this kind of stress.
Other kinds of stress happen less often, but can also contribute to mental health problems:
Loss and death
When a woman loses someone or something important—a loved one, her work, her home, or a close friendship—she may feel overwhelmed with grief. This can also happen if she becomes ill or develops a disability.
Grieving is a natural response that helps a person adjust to loss and death. But if a woman faces many losses at once, or if she already has a lot of daily stress, she may begin to develop mental health problems. This can also happen if a woman is unable to grieve in traditional ways—for example, if she has been forced to move to a new community where her traditions are not practiced.
Changes in a woman’s life and community
In many parts of the world, communities are being forced to change rapidly—because of changes in the economy or because of political conflict. Many of these changes require families and communities to alter their entire way of life. For example:
When families and communities break apart, or when life changes so much that old ways of coping do not work any more, people may begin to have mental health problems.
When something horrible has happened to a woman or to someone close to her, she has suffered a trauma. Some of the most common kinds of trauma are violence in the home, rape, war, torture, and natural disasters.Trauma threatens a person’s physical or mental well-being. As a result, a person feels unsafe, insecure, helpless, and unable to trust the world or the people around her. It usually takes a long time for a woman to recover from trauma, especially if it was caused by another person, not by nature. Trauma suffered as a child, before she could understand what was happening or talk about it, can affect a woman for many years without her even knowing it.
Some mental health problems are caused by physical problems, such as:
- hormones and other changes in the body.
- infections, such as HIV.
- pesticides, herbicides, and industrial solvents.
- liver or kidney disease.
- too much medicine in the body, or the side effects of some medicines.
- drug and alcohol misuse.
- strokes, dementia, and head injuries.
Always consider the possibility of a physical cause when treating mental health problems. Remember, too, that physical problems can be the sign of a mental health problem.