• Dr Phoebe Lau

Women's health and mental health

The relationship between our bodies and mind can be a complex one when it comes to understanding mental health. Common emotional health issues such as depression, stress-related problems, and anxiety are more predominant in women. Let’s look at the physical health issues in females that may be influencing our mental health.


Research identifies several potential risk factors for women’s mental health concerns, including the influence of sex hormones, the higher tendency for body shaming, our blunted stress response, and if you go broader on a societal level – gender inequality and discrimination. Several health conditions are unique only to women and usually linked to their physical health. Physical and emotional stresses in women are usually linked to major life transitions such as menopause, pregnancy, and motherhood.


Here are several physical health issues that may affect our mental health:


1. Gynaecological Health


Menstruation

We experience various menstrual symptoms that may include cramping, bloating, sore breasts, lower back pain, headache, fatigue, and food cravings. It may be one of those signals or a combination of them. Some women experience menstrual irregularities such as excessive bleeding, irregular periods, or missed periods. These issues may disrupt regular routines and be reflective of our general hormonal health. Hormonal health has been linked to our physical and mental health.


Photo by Dario Valenzuela

Menopause

Experiencing menopause can lead to a lot of emotions stress. It’s a big transition in a women’s life. This period can lead to an increased risk of developing emotional health issues. Menopause is not just a one-time thing. It encompasses a period that starts with the time leading up to it, which is called perimenopause. During this time, your ovaries will produce less estrogen and progesterone and will less likely release eggs. Because of the hormonal changes during perimenopause, you may experience mood swings, weight gain, and interrupted sleep patterns. These can affect your mental health.

On top of that, it is during the stages of perimenopause and menopause that we experience a lot of changes in our personal lives as well. This is the time when our children are leaving home to become independent adults and when we need to care for our elderly parents. For many women, they may also be facing career transitions. All these events occurring at the same time may be too much for some and may trigger a breakdown.


2. Reproductive Health


Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

This fairly common, but complex hormonal condition occurs during the reproductive period of a woman’s life. Common symptoms include: infrequent menstrual periods, failure to release eggs regularly, prolonged menstrual cycles, and high androgen levels. This hormonal imbalance also causes cysts in ovaries, acne, increased facial and body hair, depression and anxiety, and even obstructive sleep apnoea. You can just imagine how having this condition may affect mental health. If you have this condition, it is important to see your doctor regularly and have a solid support system that will stand with you when things get tough.


Photo by Julie Johnson

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is another reproductive health issue that may significantly affect mental health. It is a common gynaecological condition in which the tissue that typically lines the uterus grows outside the uterus. If you have this condition, you may suffer from a lot of pain and experience issues with fertility. Many women have this condition but not the symptoms. If you have a strong desire to have biological children, having this condition can be a source of anxiety.


3. Perinatal Health


Pregnancy

During pregnancy, it is common for women to experience anxiety and depression. In fact, 1 in 10 women experience this. You may feel a lot of anxiety and pressure to have as healthy a pregnancy as possible or changes in your body may trigger depression.


After-Pregnancy Care

It is also fairly common for women to feel depressed after the birth of a baby. Commonly called postpartum depression, it happens to 1 in 6 women during the first year after they give birth. Motherhood is a major transition in identity, and some women may not feel prepared for the changes. This may result in emotional stress and depression.


Perinatal Loss

One aspect of pregnancy that isn’t often discussed is perinatal loss. The loss of a newborn or the loss of a baby during pregnancy is heartbreaking and it occurs one in 100 births. Whether the loss occurs through miscarriage or a stillbirth, the grief can involve feelings of unhelpful guilt that tend to make feelings worse.

There a number of physical health concerns for females that may affect our mental health, and for this reason it’s vital for us to listen to our bodies. If you notice any changes in your body that’s out of the ordinary, it is best to see your general health practitioner to assure you that everything is going well. Remember that treatment and support are always available.


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