When people think about trauma, most think of a physical ailment or an apparent issue one can visibly see. “Sick days” are designated for the flu or a stomach bug – not a depressive episode or an anxiety attack. Most medical research presented to the public discusses the physicality of diseases, such as the effects of cancer, and completely ignores the psychology involved. Society, in general, is still taught to ignore recurring negative thoughts or emotions and to focus entirely on the positive. This needs to change.
There is a trend in society, especially among young women. that puts mental health on the back burner, which can have devastating effects. Psychological disorders affect every aspect of a person’s life: mood, cognition, motivation, and so much more. Knowing the definitions and common symptoms of these disorders can not only give you a small window into the life of someone with a mental disorder, but it can also help you understand the debilitating nature of psychological disorders.
Women, specifically, experience higher rates of any mental illness when compared to men, with prevalence being more than 20%. Below are a few examples of the most common psychological disorders seen in young women today:
- Shockingly, 1 in 8 women experience an episode of depression in their lifetime, with young women ages 14-18 having higher rates of depression than boys within this age range.
- Depression constitutes a variety of disorders, such as:
- Postpartum Depression – depression occurring directly after giving birth
- Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder (PMS/PDD) – extreme feelings of premenstrual symptoms and depression occurring before the start of a woman’s period
- Symptoms include decreases in motivation (not wanting to do school work, socialize with friends/family, or take a shower/do daily tasks), feelings of hopelessness, sadness, suicidal thoughts, self-esteem issues, irritability, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, and more.
- Currently, over 60 million people engage in eating disorder behavior, with women experiencing these symptoms more than men. Eating disorders also constitute the highest mortality among all other mental illnesses.
- Examples of eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa – characterized by a person seeing themselves as overweight, causing them to obsess over caloric intake and weight scale figures in order to achieve a slimmer figure. Young women that experience this disorder have a distorted body image, causing them to see themselves as “fatter” or “bigger” than their desired size, even when they lose most of their body fat and become unhealthy. Symptoms include intense feelings of wanting to lose weight, feeling very afraid of gaining weight or eating certain foods, being obsessed with the scale and the numbers seen on them, brittle hair, unhealthy skin, etc.
- Bulimia nervosa – characterized by a person binging (increased food intake by a large amount in a short time) and purging (expelling food through the use of laxatives or forceful vomiting). Symptoms include distorted body image, chronically inflamed/sore throat, gastrointestinal problems, acid reflux syndrome, decaying of teeth resulting from exposure to stomach acid, and lack of control seen in eating large amounts before purging.
- Binge eating disorder – characterized by moments of binging, and then starving oneself until the next binging episode. Symptoms include eating when not hungry, feeling ashamed of eating, eating until feeling very sick or overly full, experiencing shame and hopelessness associated with eating, and frequent dieting.
- The prevalence of anxiety disorders is higher among women (25%) than men (15%).
- There are many forms of this type of disorder, ranging from Generalized Anxiety Disorder to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Symptoms include feelings of nervousness, constantly feeling overwhelmed, tiredness/fatigue in everyday life, difficulty sleeping/concentrating, increased heart rate/breathing, feeling anxious when doing everyday tasks (e.g. approaching social situations or doing required homework) and having a sense of impending doom.
- Bipolar disorder involves the cycling of two emotional states: the manic phase and the depressive phase
- Manic phases constitute a short period of time, where a person feels better than normal, becoming hyperactive and motivated to do a bunch of activities
- The depressive phase is much longer, where people feel less motivated and happy than normal, causing them to experience a decline in their desire to participate in common, and sometimes necessary, activities
- Women experience rapid cycling through these phases 3 times more than men do, and more women have a greater amount of depressive and mixed episodes than men.
Though the idea of treatment can be scary, it is necessary to get the best advice and receive help for the pain you are feeling, whether it be physical or mental. Here are a few routes you can take if you want to seek mental health treatment:
- See your primary care physician. Whether you are experiencing symptoms of depression, ADHD, anxiety, or any other mental illness, seeing your primary care physician is one of the best steps you can take in evaluating your concerns. Because these physicians are generalized in their ability to diagnose patients, they will be able to spot symptoms based on your explanation of actions and behaviors. They also have numerous connections to specialized doctors, such as psychiatrists, to target the diagnosis you might have.
- See a psychiatrist/psychologist. A psychologist can provide therapy and other forms of formal support, while psychiatrists are trained to do this AND prescribe medications necessary for individual cases. Your primary care physician can help you choose the best psychiatrist/psychologist for you. One thing to keep in mind is your form of insurance and how this will affect your finances if your insurance does not cover this type of medical care.
- Talk to a close family member, legal guardian, or friend. Though these people are not trained to work through this information with you in a medical matter, it is always a good idea to discuss your feelings and concerns with people that care about you. These people can help you seek services that fit your personal and financial needs, as well as act as your support system through times where you need assistance.
- Reach out to a hotline for immediate or quick help. There are a variety of hotlines available for people that support different psychological disorders. One example is the number assisting with suicide prevention: 1-800-273-8255.
- Use a website or phone app for self-help. I used an eating disorder recovery app, Rise up + Recover, at the recommendation of a dietician I saw years ago. This app allowed me to write down what I was eating in a healthy way, while also tracking my emotions and behaviors associated with each meal. This resource helped me self-reflect and learn more about my personal perspective on body image, especially in times where I felt alone or helpless. Though it is important to reach out to a professional and discuss your concerns out loud, it is also important to recognize your own actions and behaviors in seeking recovery and happiness.
Feeling alone and helpless is common among young women that experience psychological disorders because of how little society discusses mental health. Though the conversation is starting to pick up (in the U.S.), there is still a lot of work to do in terms of promoting mental health and spreading awareness on the importance of speaking up about health and wellness. Knowing these common psychological disorders will not only help you assess your own mental health, but it will also allow you to look out for friends and family in similar situations. One action that has helped me better understand mental health is making sure to be completely aware of how people around me are feeling. Asking how someone is doing can make that person’s day and reminds them that they are supported. Learning about the struggles of others has taught me how to empathize and be there for someone else in tough situations. So, make sure to look out for others and remind them that they are not alone in their mental health journey.