Hesperian Health Guides

Common Causes of Mental Health Problems in Women

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HealthWiki > Where Women Have No Doctor > Chapter 27: Mental Health > Common Causes of Mental Health Problems in Women

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.

illustration of the below: sources of stress for a woman include child care, work, meeting husband's needs, caring for the sick, too little money, and too little food

Most women have many kinds of stress pressuring them from all sides.

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:

a woman speaking
My name is Edhina. When the war started, soldiers came and forced the men in our village to fight. Some of the women were raped. We fled into the mountains, but it was hard to find food. Now we live as refugees in a camp just across the border. We usually have enough to eat, but many people are sick. The camp is crowded with strangers. Every day I wonder - will I ever see my home again?
a woman speaking
My name is Jurema. Every year our land produced less. We had to borrow money to buy seeds, and even tried buying fertilizer, but we could never grow enough to pay back the bank. We were finally forced to leave our land. Now we live in a shack at the edge of the city. Every morning when I wake up, I listen for the birds that had always greeted the morning. But then I remember - there are no birds here. There is only another day of scrubbing other people's floors.

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.


a soldier grabbing a woman while other soldiers hold a man

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.

Physical problems

Some mental health problems are caused by physical problems, such as:

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.

This page was updated:13 Jun 2019