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Women's Issues and Therapy

A patient and a counselor sit together in a counseling session

Women today face no shortage of challenges.  Between unrealistic expectations forced on women by relentless marketing and the fact that more women than ever before are working AND managing life at home, it’s no wonder women often come to our offices overwhelmed, stressed and tired.  Women seem to continue to add responsibilities and expectations without dropping anything they are already doing.

Here are a few interesting statistics from the United States Department of Labor:

  • 70% of women with children under the age of 18 participate in the workforce
  • In 2014 there was 21.4 wage gap between men and women’s pay (for full-time, year-round employees)
  • 57% or women (all ages)  participate in the workforce

What we know is that in many households where women work, they still tend to do far more of household management duties than their partners.  It’s not surprising the National Institute of Mental Health reports that both anxiety and depression are more common in women’s issues than men.  There are also certain kinds of depression that are unique to only women. Women may experience symptoms of depression or mood swings at times of hormonal change, such as perinatal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression.  Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Women and Depression

Perinatal depression – Depression that happens during pregnancy or within a year after delivery is called perinatal depression.  According to the Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, depression is one of the most common complications of pregnancy.  Many women, 50-85%, experience some form of “baby blues” after birth but in up to 10% of pregnancies the baby blues may escalate into postpartum depression.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression include:

  • Feeling sad, depressed, and/or crying a lot
  • Intense anxiety; rumination, obsessions
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or incompetence
  • Fatigue, sleep disturbance
  • Change in appetite
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling inadequate to cope with new infant
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Loss of interest in usual activities

It’s important to be aware of that these symptoms may escalate quickly and may show up even months after giving birth, although most common in weeks following delivery.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) –  PMDD is characterized by significant premenstrual mood disturbance to the degree that it may impair functioning and impact relationships.  Women with PMDD may experience increased and even severe depression or anxiety during the week or two before each menstrual cycle.  Women with PMDD should experience a symptom-free interval between menses and ovulation.  It can be difficult to evaluate when mood issues are the result of PMDD and when there may be an underlying mood disorder.

Perimenopause-related depression – The transition time between normal period cycles to the complete cessation of menses is called perimenopause.  During this time of hormone fluctuation, there is an increased risk of depression.  In addition to traditional depressive symptoms, women may also experience symptoms of hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness, and mood problems.  It’s important to know sometimes these symptoms escalate gradually being particularly difficult to identify and treat.

Women and Trauma

We also know that women are more likely to experience some forms of trauma than their male counterparts.  Women are more likely than men to experience sexual abuse at all ages, in fact, the most common trauma for women to experience is sexual assault or child sexual abuse (according to the National Center for PTSD) About 1 in 3 women will experience some kind of sexual assault in their lifetime.   According to the Violence Policy Center women also represent 85% of those involved in intimate partner violence.  It’s difficult to estimate the number of women who experience emotional and verbal abuse in their relationships, but the effects of these kinds of abuse are often as painful as physical wounds.

Traumatic events and abusive relationships can be devastating and may lead to an increase in symptoms such as anxiety, depression, flashbacks, fear, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, guilt, insomnia or nightmares, or emotional detachment or unwanted thoughts.  Counseling can be an integral part of recovering from the effects of trauma.

Women and Eating Disorders

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, women are twice as likely to experience an eating disorder as men.  The rate of eating disorders has steadily increased since the 1950’s and unfortunately, it does not look like it’s decreasing anytime soon.  There are many ways this disordered eating can look, too many to go into here, but as many 30 million Americans struggle with some form of it.  Eating Disorders are commonly linked to mood disorders as well.

As we’ve reviewed in this blog women face very real challenges that may require extra support and understanding.

How can counseling help?  The good news is that all the issues addressed above can be treated and often respond well to talk therapy.  Our Counseling for Women services offers a safe place to explore and process your own unique feelings and set of circumstances as well as work toward improved coping and increased support.