Women can improve their well-being by watching for emotional changes

Women Can Improve Well-Being by Watching for Emotional Changes

Men and women experience mental disorders at about the same rate. However, women can experience certain mental illness symptoms more often than men do, and some may be linked to hormonal changes. For example, a woman’s risk of depression is 2-4 times greater during perimenopause, which is the transition from childbearing age to the non-reproductive stage of life.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which seeks to raise awareness about the importance of emotional and mental well-being. National Women’s Health Week is also in May (May 12-18), drawing further attention to the health issues women may face.

Women should be aware of specific biological factors that can cause some mental illnesses to last longer or be more severe. Hormones can affect a woman’s emotions, mental state, and moods in different ways throughout her lifetime. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of symptoms that many women get about 1-2 weeks before their period. Most women report experiencing moodiness, bloating, and headaches, and those symptoms can range from mild to severe. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is similar to PMS but tends to cause more extreme irritability, severe depression, or anxiety. Symptoms usually go away 2-3 days after the menstrual cycle starts.

The exact causes are not known, but research suggests that depression in some women may stem from the slow loss of estrogens, the hormones responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system. Sometimes the physical symptoms of perimenopause – such as hot flashes, sleeping disorders, pain during sex, and urinary problems – can cause stress. That type of stress may lead to anxiety and depression.

Warning signs

The emotional changes and mood swings women experience that are caused by hormone levels or related symptoms are not usually warning signs of a severe mental condition. Lifestyle and social stress, family changes such as growing children or aging parents, work-related stress, and financial disruptions can cause the same symptoms that result from hormonal changes.

Watching for certain ongoing or severe symptoms is an important part of mental health maintenance for women. Some warning signs include:

  • Persistent sadness or feelings of hopelessness
  • Aches, headaches, or digestive problems that don’t seem to have a normal cause
  • Irritability
  • Constant worry or fearfulness
  • Major changes in sleeping habits
  • Extreme changes in appetite
  • Low energy or extreme fatigue
  • Avoiding communicating with others
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there
  • Extremely high and low moods
  • Suicidal thoughts

Speak up early

Women who have concerns about their mental well-being should not wait to be asked about those issues during a regular checkup. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers the following tips to help prepare patients to talk to a doctor about their mental health:

  • Talk to a primary care provider. People with mental disorders often can be at risk for other medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. In many primary care settings, you may be asked if you’re feeling anxious or depressed and if you’ve had thoughts of suicide. Even if you are not asked first, take this opportunity to talk to your primary care doctor, who can then refer you to a mental health professional.
  • Prepare ahead of your visit. Make a list of what you want to discuss and any questions or concerns you might have.
  • Make a list of your medications. It’s important to tell your health care provider about all the medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, vitamins, and supplements.
  • Review your family history. Certain mental illnesses tend to run in families, and having a relative with a mental disorder could mean you’re at higher risk. Knowing your family mental health history helps your doctor recommend actions for reducing your risk and identify early warning signs.
  • Consider bringing a friend or relative. A companion can be there for support, to take notes, to help you remember what was discussed, and even share input with the provider on how you appear to be doing.
  • Be honest. Your health care provider can only help you get better if you have open and honest communication. Describe all of your symptoms, and be specific about when they started, how severe they are, and how often they occur. You also should discuss any major stressors or recent life changes that could be causing your symptoms or making them worse.

Click here for more information about mental health care and a guide to emotional well-being.

SOURCE: National Institutes of Health

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