Identifying as a woman can often be a source of joy and strength, but it also comes with its own unique challenges. Sexism against women is common in many cultures, and the stress of navigating the world as a woman can create a significant psychic burden. A robust body of research indicates that women are more likely than men to develop a range of mental health conditions.
For all of these reasons, many women prefer to work with therapists who either identify as women themselves or who have extensive experience working with women and bring a feminist lens to their work.
Therapy tailored to include attention to women’s issues can be a helpful source of support for any woman, whether or not your primary concerns relate directly to your female identity.
Common mental health challenges among women
There’s no one mental health profile that fits all women, and it’s important to avoid categorizing symptoms along gender lines; women can experience all the same mental health symptoms that men do, and vice versa.
That said, some mental health symptoms that are especially common in women include:
- Anxiety or worry: You may feel preoccupied with constant worry, experience racing thoughts, have difficulty concentrating, or feel unable to relax.
- Sadness or depression: You might experience persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or lack of interest in things you once enjoyed.
- Physical symptoms of stress: You may have trouble sleeping or experience physical symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, and digestive troubles.
- Burnout: The challenge of balancing day-to-day stresses along with the added burdens of sexism and discrimination may lead to a feeling of intense exhaustion and an inability to tackle tasks.
Mental health and societal issues unique to women
Again, women can and do experience all of the same challenges as men, and addressing female identity may be a helpful component of therapy even when none of the below situations apply.
However, some common challenging scenarios relating to women’s issues include:
- Sexism: Whether through explicit harassment, subtle discrimination, or even an internalized sense of inferiority, sexism can be a powerful force affecting women’s mental health.
- Perinatal mental health challenges: Mental health conditions relating to pregnancy and childbirth, including postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and other perinatal mental health concerns are common challenges for women.
- Eating disorders: Women are more likely than men to suffer from eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
- Motherhood: From the physical experience of bearing children, to the challenges of child-rearing, to the social pressures placed on female parents, motherhood can be a unique source of stress.
- Self-esteem and/or body image concerns: In part due to unrealistic cultural and media standard for women’s attractiveness, many women struggle with self-esteem and/or body image issues.
- Sexual trauma and or intimate partner violence: Women are more likely than men to experience sexual trauma and/or interpersonal abuse.
- Issues relating to culture, race, and/or ethnicity: All of these issues are often exacerbated for women of color, who face racism as well as gender discrimination due to their intersectional identities and the realities of societal oppression.
- Issues relating to gender and/or sexual identity: Women who identify as LGBTQ+ tend to face harsher discrimination and harassment than straight-identified cis-women.
- Workplace issues: Women may face discrimination and/or harassment in their workplaces, as well as significant challenges balancing work life and demand at home.
- Religious issues: Some religions may impose strict rules on women’s behavior and life choices, which can be an added source of stress and conflict in some women’s lives.
Prevalence and types of women’s issues
In general, it’s very common for women to experience mental health challenges, and women are more likely than men to face many common mental health conditions.
Trauma and violence against women are also significant sources of mental health challenges. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that women are more likely than men to be victims of intimate partner violence, with 1 in 4 women experiencing severe abuse as opposed to 1 in 9 men. Additionally, the American Psychological Association reports that women are more than twice as likely as men to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that many women struggle to seek help for their symptoms.
Cultural and societal factors can make day-to-day life more stressful for many women as well. A report from the Pew Research Center found that 56% of working mothers found balancing their work and family lives to be at least somewhat stressful, while mothers also spent more time than fathers, on average, on childcare and household tasks. Furthermore, sexist biases also pervade medical and psychological care, both historically and in the present day. This means that it may be harder for women to find appropriate treatment for mental health challenges. For example, the World Health Organization notes that gender stereotypes can lead to misdiagnosis and/or inappropriate prescriptions for women seeking mental health treatment.
What to do if you’re experiencing challenges related to women’s issues
The challenges of identifying as a woman are substantial and beyond the control of any one woman. Nonetheless, there are many options available to women seeking support around women’s issues:
- Therapy. Find a therapist who can help you navigate challenges related to women’s issues and use proven strategies and techniques to reduce any mental health symptoms.
- Support groups. An online or in-person support group can be a great way to connect with other women who may also be facing the challenges you’re experiencing. Try searching the internet for “women’s support group” and your zip code, along with another search time if you’re interested in connecting with other women who share some aspect of your identity (women of color, trans-women, etc.). Some groups may also be engaged in political activism around women’s issues, which can be an empowering way to make a difference in your society and gain agency over some of the challenges you’re facing.
- Check-ups. Women’s mental health challenges are sometimes related to underlying medical issues, and these conditions often go undiagnosed due to gender stereotyping within the medical establishment. Especially if your symptoms are sudden or extreme, scheduling an appointment with your primary care physician to rule out a medical cause.
- Meditation or mindfulness practices. You can experiment with meditation or other mindfulness practices through classes or apps. Studies have shown that these practices can help reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety that often come with challenges around women’s issues.
- Hotlines and safety resources: If you think you may be experiencing intimate partner violence or abuse, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or www.TheHotline.org. If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need immediate support, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at at 1-800-273-8255.
What to look for in a therapist for women’s issues
Prioritize personal fit and experience
You’ll want to find a therapist who has experience working with women and who is comfortable incorporating a feminist perspective into therapy.
Determine which therapy type appeals to you
The following therapeutic modalities may be especially helpful for challenges related to women’s issues: