EHP FYI

Newsletter from Employee Health Promotions

May Edition 2022

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Understanding Mental Health Over a Woman’s Lifetime.

This article is focused on the biological differences between men and women and the variances in mental health between the two. We understand that not all gender identity fits into one of these two categories. This article does not exclude the validity of those who identify with other genders. The article has been edited for space, to read it in its entirety, click here.


Many mental health conditions impact women differently at different stages in life: It’s about time we talked about it. One of the most pressing issues in health care today is mental health. Unique issues related to the mental health of girls and women are of particular importance. Understanding women’s mental health is a twofold approach. There are mental health issues that only appear in women. There are also mental health issues in all genders that impact women differently.


The Role of Sex and Gender in Mental Health

Sex and gender differences play a major role in mental health and mental illness. Though there are biological differences between men and women that may impact mental health, there are also societal differences between men and women that can influence the development of mental health issues.


Often gender determines degrees of power when it comes to men and women. There are still societal barriers that women face when it comes to social and economic determinants of mental health, such as susceptibility and exposure to mental health risks as well as social considerations. Research has shown significant differences between genders when it comes to the development of common mental health disorders, with some disorders being more prevalent in women.


It is important to keep all these differences in mind when taking a closer look at how mental health issues may appear in women throughout their lives. The earlier mental health issues are detected, the faster they can be addressed.


Mental Health in Early Childhood: ADHD

One of the most common mental health issues that children are diagnosed with is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is noted for symptoms related to attention dysregulation, impulsivity, and sometimes hyperactivity. Challenges in executive functioning are a core feature of ADHD. These challenges include problems with time management, organization, decision-making, working memory, planning, emotional regulation, and prioritization.


According to information published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys are more than twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of ADHD as girls. This diagnosis rate isn’t necessarily because boys are more likely to develop ADHD than girls. This stark contrast is more likely because ADHD symptoms may present differently in girls, making it harder to identify this disorder.


Though girls often exhibit different symptoms when it comes to ADHD, research has shown that undiagnosed or misdiagnosed ADHD can harm a girl’s self-esteem. Girls with ADHD often don’t externalize their frustrations and usually focus on work. As a result, this can increase their risk of developing eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.


During Adolescence: Depression, Anxiety, and Eating Disorders

Mental health issues often start to appear as children become adolescents, the most common being conditions such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. While these conditions may occur alone, they often appear alongside one another.


Depression in Young Women

The most common mental health issue in women is depression. Research has shown that twice as many women experience depression during their lives as men. There are a lot of factors that play a role in the development of depression in teenagers, particularly teenage girls. Weight issues, problems with friends, long-term bullying, and academic problems can make it more likely for a teenage girl to struggle with depression. Also, witnessing or experiencing an act of violence, such as physical or sexual abuse, can contribute to the development of depression in teens.


It is important to diagnose and treat depression as quickly as possible. Typically, treatment of depression is a combination of therapy and medication. Antidepressants may be used to treat depression in women and teens. In some cases, individuals may benefit from inpatient therapy. Every case of depression is as unique as the person diagnosed, so it’s important to discuss all options with a care team.


Suicide attempts can look different in women and girls compared to men. Though women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to be successful, largely based on the violent methods often used by men in their attempts. When it comes to the treatment of depression, regardless of gender, continuity of care is important for sustained results.


Anxiety in Young Women

Anxiety is another common mental health disorder in adolescent girls and young women. According to the American Psychiatric Association, women are twice as likely as men to experience generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Anxiety is often characterized by feeling tense or worried. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring, intrusive thoughts or worries, which may lead them to avoid certain situations.


Anxiety can be treated in a few ways, including medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. Caring for anxiety includes continued management of the condition to keep it from interfering with or disrupting daily activities.


Eating Disorders: Commonly Found in Teen Girls and Young Women

While eating disorders can develop in anyone at any time, they are more common in teenage girls and young women than they are in men. A majority of people diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia and close to two-thirds of individuals with binge eating disorder are female. Women are also more likely to have an eating disorder at some point in their life.


These disorders are more common in women for several reasons. Teen girls and young women are held to unrealistic beauty standards. Social media, movies, and billboards paint an unrealistic picture of what beauty looks like. Genetics and biochemistry may play a part in the onset of eating disorders as well.


The most common eating disorders involve too much focus on body weight, shape, and food, which spurns dangerous eating behaviors. These behaviors include but are not limited to self-induced vomiting, eating restriction, overeating, and the use of laxatives. Disordered eating can significantly impact the body’s ability to get nutrition and can harm the heart, major organs, bones, and teeth and lead to other diseases.


In many cases, teenage girls who are diagnosed with an eating disorder spend time in inpatient therapy to ensure these issues are treated completely. Recovery typically is not linear, as stress and anxiety can aggravate symptoms of an eating disorder—but eating disorders are treatable.


Reproductive-Related Mental Health Issues in Women

Genetics, biochemistry, and naturally fluctuating hormones during reproductive years can contribute to the onset of mental health issues that may only appear in women. Some of these conditions include:


Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Thanks to fluctuations in hormones, most women experience symptoms during the week before their period. In many situations, this is referred to as PMS. Though PMS can show up differently from person to person, the most common symptoms include fluctuating emotions, headaches, and bloating. In particular, women who have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety may experience symptoms of PMS that are worse than women who do not have depression or anxiety.


Postpartum Depression

When a woman gives birth, it is normal to have some degree of emotional letdown afterward from hormonal fluctuations. This is often referred to as postpartum blues or baby blues. If symptoms of postpartum blues continue to persist for more than two weeks, the mother is usually diagnosed with postpartum depression. Some of the most common symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, crying fits, appetite problems, trouble sleeping, and feelings of being overwhelmed. These symptoms may continue to get worse and could include difficulty bonding with a child and overwhelming loss of energy, reduced interest in the child, and feelings of hopelessness. Some women may even feel guilty. It is important for women experiencing these symptoms to get treatment as quickly as possible.


Menopause

Toward the end of a woman’s reproductive years, her hormones start to shift. In some cases, if a woman is prone to depression or anxiety, this change in hormone levels may reignite symptoms of mental health conditions around the time of menopause. Often midlife has other stressors associated with aging or caring for both children and parents. These stressors can exacerbate even mild mental health symptoms, but any changes in mood or behaviors should be addressed with a medical professional.


Older Adulthood: Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. According to the American Alzheimer’s Association, nearly two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are women. This condition is more common in individuals who are 65 years of age or older. As life expectancy continues to increase, particularly in women, Alzheimer’s disease will likely become more common.


Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may include forgetting the names and faces of loved ones and an inability to manage executive functions, such as tallying finances. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease have expressed difficulty performing day-to-day activities, like household chores and getting dressed.


To make matters worse, two-thirds of those caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease are also women. It is not uncommon for many caregivers to experience burnout. The stress of caring for others can contribute to poor mental health and the onset of conditions such as depression and anxiety.


Though there are no medications that can cure Alzheimer’s, it is possible to slow the progression of symptoms with the right treatment plan. Women and their loved ones need to be attentive to the onset of these symptoms. Early diagnosis can make a significant difference in quality of life as they get older.


Looking to the Future

While mental health care has grown exponentially, there is still work to be done when examining mental health by gender. The differences in women’s mental health conditions, if taken seriously, can improve the quality of life of millions of women around the world. Destigmatizing women’s mental health starts with us. By looking after ourselves and those we care about, as well as having a voice in conversations about mental health, we can help shape future research, treatment decisions, and societal views when it comes to mental health issues.

Information shared by McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School Affiliate, March 4, 2022

Quote by actress Glenn Close. What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor and more unashamed conversation.
This is what anxiety feels like

Remember to Utilize Employee Health Promotions

Employee Health Promotions is made possible through a partnership with South Central Service Coop and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. It is the promotion of health and wellness activities for employees of Mankato Area Public Schools. This work influences the physical, mental, economic and social well-being of employees and in turn the health of their families and our community.

Thank You 2021-22 Top Participant Site Representatives

Eagle Lake - Lee Ann Johnson and Mary Michels

Jefferson - Amber Leonhardi and Amelia Jirak

Roosevelt - Beth Baker


The work of Employee Health Promotions is made possible through funding by Blue Cross Blue Shield and South Central Service Cooperative, but is made REAL by the Site Representatives who volunteer to make their workplace healthier and more connected. Each year Site Representatives come up with ways to encourage and entice you to become more active, try new ways to take care of yourself and learn new ideas. We thank you for all you have done this school year in support of your building teams and we look forward to celebrating May Shake It Up with you!


Speaking of May Shake It Up, previously, one walk was scheduled for all staff to participate in and it was listed on the calendar. As this is not always the easiest thing for all staff to attend, this year each building will host their own walk on a day that works best for your staff. Find out all the details for your building from your EHP Site Representative.

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