Are Women More Depressed?

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Are Women More Depressed?

A look at gender differences in mental health treatment

Women experience mental disorders at the same rate as men, but there are significant differences in which kinds of disorders are more prevalent in men and women, says Kathleen O’Leary, of the Women’s Mental Health Program at the National Institute of Mental Health. She speaks with the Academy of Women’s Health‘s Mitzi Perdue about these differences and how to treat them.

Mental disorders impact men and women differently.

Women are 70 percent more likely than men to have a major depression in their lifetimes, and women are 60 percent more likely to experience an anxiety disorder. Furthermore, women who experience trauma can, depending on their genetics, be at greater risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Screening for mental disorders is cost effective.

In any given year, as many as one quarter of American adults will experience a diagnosable mental disorder, but only 36 percent of them will receive treatment. One of the many consequences of this is that undiagnosed mental disorders mean greater utilization of other health-care resources. Often a patient with a mental health issue will see her provider many times with no relief, unless, and until, the underlying mental disorder is diagnosed and treated. Even with limited time with patients, mental health screening yields benefits for patients and health-care systems. With the Affordable Care Act and with implementation of Mental Health Parity, mental health care should become both more available and more affordable.

Talking with your patient can be effective for screening

For non-mental health providers, the conversation about mental health doesn’t have to be awkward. One approach is to state your observation if someone seems nervous or subdued. You could also start the conversation by asking questions such as, “Is anything worrying you?” or “Have you had any mood changes over the past few months?” Some people respond better to questions about stress, such as, “Is stress affecting your health in any ways?” You can follow up with, “Are these feelings interfering with your life?” or “Are the people around you noticing something in your mood or behavior that causes them concern?” History helps; you can ask, “Have you received treatment in the past for mood or anxiety problems?”

Before suggesting that a patient seek additional help, you can reassure her: “These kinds of mood or anxiety problems are very, very common and it helps to see someone with experience in these matters. We know that these are brain disorders and the treatments can usually make people feel better.”

You might even tell her that the NIH has funded a number of trials and it is known that the available therapies, whether medication, behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, have been proved to make a significant difference.

Resources are available for referrals

There are two federal websites that can refer you to licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses and social workers. In the case of the HHS website, you can type in your state or ZIP code in the Treatment Locator. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website has a treatment referral line and treatment locator. Also, in most states there are professional societies for these mental health-care providers, and their websites are good resources. In addition to all of the above, you might consider trained pastoral counselors, since you may have patients who will be more at ease in this setting as opposed to a more clinical one.

Mitzi Perdue