Anxiety: Why the gender gap in Australia's most common mental illness?
Health Anxiety: Why the gender gap in Australia's most common mental illness?
It is possible to treat anxiety, and experts say the gold standard is cognitive behavioural therapy.
Sometimes it feels like every second woman I know has anxiety.
And statistically speaking, that estimate probably isn't far off.
In Australia, one in three women will experience anxiety. Among men, the rate is one in five.
Like a lot of mental illness, anxiety tends to be misunderstood; sometimes confused for the stress or worry that we all feel from time to time.
But anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried.
Anxiety disorder, according to Beyond Blue, is "when these anxious feelings don't go away â" when they're ongoing and happen without any particular reason or cause".
LWNTT: Anxiety promo
Listen to the podcast
Everyone gets a little bit anxious at times, but is what you're feeling normal? ABC podcast Ladies, We Need to Talk takes a look at the rising rates of female anxiety.
Such persistent, excessive worry can make it hard to cope with daily life.
For Katr ina*, anxiety is an exhausting daily struggle, particularly as a young mum.
"Sometimes I end up in tears, which is really hard because I don't want my kids to see me like that," she says.
"It's just huge â" the impact it has on my life â¦ Like, it's every single day."
Katrina says her anxiety developed from spending a lot of time at home alone looking after her kids.
"Now that the eldest is starting to understand what's going on, I don't want his first memories of me to be having a breakdown near the washing line," she says.
"I spend so much trying to find a way to manage [the anxiety]. It's exhausting."
Hormonal changes through life
In September, a national survey of 15,000 women found more than two-thirds of women "felt nervous, anxious or on edge" on several days or more in the last month.
Of the women surveyed, 46 per cent said they were diagnosed w ith anxiety and/or depression.
The findings echo a report published in June from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that revealed anxiety disorders are the leading cause of ill health and death in girls and women aged five to 44.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), gender is a "critical determinant of mental health and mental illness".
The WHO says this is particularly true when it comes to rates of common mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, of which "women predominate".
There are a few reasons gender (and sex) are thought to increase a woman's susceptibility and exposure to various mental health risks, says clinical psychologist Charlotte Keating.
"The common theory for the greater prevalence of anxiety in women is their fluctuating levels of sex hormones.
"[This] is because anxiety typically emerges for women at stages of life when these hormone levels are in flux. This c an be puberty, but also during phases of the reproductive cycle."
24-hour telephone counselling
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- QLife on 1800 184 527
Jayashri Kulkarni, a professor of psychiatry at Monash University, agrees, and says some women are more vulnerable to episodes of mental illness during periods of significant hormonal change, such as the perinatal period (pregnancy and post-childbirth) and menopause.
"The hormones that govern reproduction are also really involved in the brain â¦ and that connection is important for women to recognise," Professor Kulkarni says.
"Some women are really sensitive to even small changes in their brain hormonal chemistry, whereas ot her women can tolerate huge shifts â¦ so we've got individual variation."
Gender-based violence and inequality
In addition to biological mechanisms, there are gender-specific and socio-cultural risk factors involved in the development of common mental disorders.
Gender-based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, and "unremitting responsibility for the care of others" are all risk factors that disproportionately affect women, according to the WHO.
Olivia Remes, who studies anxiety and depression at the University of Cambridge, says low or subordinate social status also unduly affects women and their mental health.
According to the WHO, the high prevalence of sexual violence that women are exposed to â" and the correspondingly high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following such violence â" means women are the largest single group of people affected by PTSD.
In Australia, one in five women has experienced sexual violence, and women are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as men.
Last month, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found women who experience sexual assault or harassment are more likely to suffer poor sleep, anxiety and symptoms of depression.
"Experiencing sexual harassment and/or assault not only has implications for your quality of life, social functioning and job performance, but also for your mental and physical health," Rebecca Thurston, University of Pittsburgh psychology professor and lead author of the study, told The Guardian.
Different coping mechanisms
The high rates of anxiety among women can also be explained in part by the different coping strategies women and men use when faced with stressful situations, Ms Remes says.
"If women encounter stress and challenges in life, they're more likely to ruminate, which means to worry and to obsess about those problems,&qu ot; she says.
"This can increase levels of anxiety."
Article: Jill Stark anxiety
How ditching the 'fairytale filter' helped Jill Stark combat crippling anxiety
Sitting on a beach, bestselling author Jill Stark got friends to take a photo of her, which she Instagrammed with the hashtag 'blessed'. Really, she says, she was "dying inside".
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to engage in "problem-focused" coping.
"This means when they encounter a problem, they're more likely to think about what they can do about, instead of ruminating, " Ms Remes said.
Research, however, shows women are more likely to disclose mental health problems and seek psychological help. (This also explains why women are more represented in statistics.)
Men, conversely, are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour, and turn to drugs and alcohol to try to mask or block out symptoms.
No single factor to blame
Anxiety isn't a single mental health condition. There are multiple, distinct types of anxiety disorder, and many people experience symptoms of more than one and may experience depression as well.
Dr Keating says anxiety isn't caused by a single factor but a combination of things.
"There is the likelihood that there is some biology involved, and some early life experiences," she says.
She adds that our "current environment" may also be influencing rates of anxiety, especially among women.
"There is a real impact on women of social media â¦ things we are looking at every day that project the 'ideal way' we're meant to look â" perfect bodies are the norm and that we should be aspiring to those," she says.
She adds that for many wom en, especially mothers and/or those who work full time, there is often little reprieve from busy work and family schedules.
"We often feel like we can't just take a break, or we don't deserve to have that hour of doing nothing," she says.
"We almost feel guilty about our lack of productivity, when in fact, being unproductive is really positive."
Beyond Blue has some strategies for managing anxiety. If your anxiety is proving difficult to manage, it's a good idea to seek professional help.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.
ABC Health and Wellbeing Newsletter Teaser
Want more ABC Health and Wellbeing?
- Like us on Facebook
- Follow us on Twitter
Health in your inboxGet the latest health news and information from across the ABC.
Top health stories
Swiss study gets three paraplegic patients on their feet agai n
Why you shouldn't pick at scabs, even if they're really itchy
Bullying of medical students has consequences â" for future doctors and patients
Did you know Australians don't eat enough of any of the five major food groups?
Meet Freya, the diagnostic dog that can smell malaria in kids' socks
- US restores sanctions on Iran, hitting oil exports
- The 'dangerous pattern' that may see countries go to war over fish
- How I talked myself into becoming a morning person
- Opinion: Trump has an ace up his sleeve that could seize an election win
- Four 'invisible countries' that could redraw the world map
- Khashoggi kill order came from 'highest levels' of Saudi government: Erdogan
- SportCricket viewers in for a shock wit h Australia-South Africa ODIs behind paywall
- Cat tourism: Can hundreds of strays stop struggling towns getting scratched off the map?
- Two men stabbed in knife fight at Sony Music headquarters
- 'Father of Taliban' killed in Pakistan attack
- Lizards are smarter than you think, research finds
- What a pearler: Pioneer farmer looks back on 30 years of oyster growing
- Why yowie hunters are keen to prove existence of mythical hairy beast
- New defence witness may give evidence at Geoffrey Rush defamation trial
- Australian nun Patricia Fox loses Philippines deportation battle
- Why are women more prone to anxiety?
- Anglicans speak out against potential for discrimination of gay teachers and students
- Canberra's bushfire remains out of control, but there's no immediate danger
- Sky News sacks Ross Cameron after racist s pray
- Australian gangster murdered in Athens ambush
- 'Life after hell': Childhood abuse never ended for thousands of Australian adults like Sarah
- Former students blast principal over Anglican sex discrimination letter
- Mating season looking positive for one of our most endangered birds
Connect with ABC News
Got a news tip?
If you have inside knowledge of a topic in the news, contact the ABC.
News in your inboxTop headlines, analysis, breaking alerts More info
ABC teams share the story behind the story and insights into the making of digital, TV and radio content.
Read about our editorial guiding principles and the enforceable standard our journalists follow.Source: Google Australia | Netizen 24 Australia