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When it comes to mental health, how much of “you” is determined by your gender? Many differences between men and women are the products of social conditioning and environmental factors. However, there are a number of differences that can largely be traced back to hormones.
Each of these influences can affect many aspects of an individual, which begs the question: How does gender impact mental health? The differences range from small to large and include how the male and female brains work, variances in metabolism, weight control, and our reproductive systems. Some of the ways women are unique are easy to see, while others, such as sex-based cognitive differences, are less obvious.
A number of mental health professionals have been diving into gender differences, and recent discoveries include new data that impact the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
Here are the essentials of what you need to know about how your gender impacts your mental health.
Gender vs. Sex
Before we dive too deep, let’s review a couple words we’ll use in this article.
- Sex: Your sex is the state of being male, female, or intersex. This has to do with your sex organs, body, and hormonal make-up.
- Gender: Gender is not the same as sex. It refers to the roles we play in society or how an individual perceives their own gender identity.
Your personal values and associations may influence your views on gender. For example, you might think of roles like being a defender, leader, or making personal sacrifices as more male than female. Or you may associate roles like secretary, teacher, or nurse with women.
Current societal norms are challenging traditional gender roles. You may think that mental health issues would start to normalize between the sexes as more women enter the armed forces or men take active roles in child-rearing. However, there is evidence that male and female veterans react differently to PTSD, and there are clear parenting differences between mothers and fathers. This indicates that there is a strong argument for the role that hormones’ play in overall wellness and mental health.
Transgender health is a sub-section of reproductive health. For example, a transgender man might live with endometriosis. Dealing with this uterine disease could be a challenging conversation to have with male friends. A transgender woman can be diagnosed and receive treatment for testicular issues or struggle with testosterone levels too.
Hormones and Environment
Hormones are another significant difference between males and females. Women have fluctuating levels of estrogen throughout their lifetime related to puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause. Hormonal imbalances can impact everything from weight gain to skin health to fertility.
The cause of health problems may even seem cut-and-dried to the untrained person. Take obesity, for example. You may think that it’s solely related to food intake and the lack of physical activity. However, many people struggle with hormonal imbalances or hereditary markers that can make it more difficult to lose weight.
Some external factors can impact hormone balance. Medications can heal, but sometimes these drugs bring a long list of potential side effects. For example, Orilissa, a drug prescribed to treat endometriosis in women, is known to cause anxiety, depression, and mood swings. These conditions can lead to suicidal ideation.
How Hormones Affect Mental Health
According to Laura Peters, advice service manager at the charitable organization Rethink Mental Illness:
There are many studies linking hormones to mental health problems. These relate mainly to mood disorders like depression, but there is evidence to show that other illnesses like schizophrenia can be affected by hormonal changes. Although the underlying causes of these problems may include a combination of psychological and social factors, there is increasing evidence that biological factors like hormones are also important.
Hormones are the foremost driving biological factor that can influence mental health. While the exact mechanisms at play are not entirely understood, there are clear correlations between hormones and mental health.
Women who have a history of depression, for example, are more likely to suffer from hormone-related depression in the future. This may explain why some conditions — such as depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder — disproportionately affect women.
How Environmental Factors Affect Mental Health
There are countless ways that environments influence your mental health. Some of the most common examples of environmental factors that can negatively impact your mental health include:
- A lack of access to nutritious foods
- Disruptive environments that cause sleep deprivation
- The presence of addictive substances
- Unhealthy relationships with family members or peers
- Hazardous or emotionally traumatizing conditions that can induce stress
- A lack of proper self-care
These factors can cause biological changes in us, affecting our hormonal balance or leading to chronic conditions that can influence our mood.
Mental Health Self-Care
Gender and sex can impact your risk of living with mental illness. It can also change the way your doctor approaches mental health treatment. Here are a few ways you can treat mental illness with self-care techniques in a personalized way:
Understand the Role of Stress
Men and women can deal with different types of stress throughout life. Stress can cause low energy, upset stomach, and insomnia. It’s critical to identify how stress affects your body and what the unique triggers are for your symptoms. There are no right or wrong answers when you consider the causes of stress. No matter what causes your stress, identify it, and then come up with a plan to treat it.
Get Up and Move
Exercise keeps your mind and body working optimally. Work toward getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. You can join a class or workout at home or in your community. The more you exercise, the higher your levels of stress-relieving hormones will be, improving your overall health and wellness.
Stimulate the Body
Did you know that you have an entire system in your body that releases hormones similar to those found in marijuana products? Using CBD products for mental health can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and alleviate depression. CBD is the non-psychoactive component of marijuana, meaning that you get all of the benefits without the high.
You have a large project to finish at work, the baby has an appointment, and you need to finish meal planning for the week. This is a typical list of tasks that many women complete before noon on an average day. Conversely, men may feel pressured to act as the “breadwinner” of the family, pulling extra hours at work. All of the bustle associated with these traditional gender roles can leave you feeling disconnected from the world around you — like you’re just going through the motions.
Try to focus less on “playing your part” in regards to gender roles and more on practicing mindfulness. This helps you slow down and recognize the mind-body connection. Try taking a mindful walk each day to list 10 new observations on your street. Or download a meditation app to practice guided meditations specific to factors happening in your life right now, such as insomnia, pain, or increased stress. Taking a little time out of each day to get grounded can help alleviate symptoms of mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
Take Mental Health Into Your Hands
There are aspects of your mental health that are influenced by your sex, and those can’t be easily changed. Adding in a few self-care techniques can help you stay in control of your mental health and give you a way to acknowledge your unique needs. Use this information and tips to keep yourself well and moving towards a lifetime of mental health.