Understanding Women’s Mental Health: Is There Really A Difference? | Shari Muir, M.D.


Sometimes people ask me, “Is there really
a difference in mental illness between men and women?” And I tell them, “Yes.” In my
practice, I see women that come in and want to address their issues, whether it’s anxiety,
depression, and being on treatment and medications and wanting to get pregnant, and the fear
of birth defects and the guilt that comes with that treatment. I had a patient tell
me that every time she takes a pill, she feels like she’s hurting her baby, and that causes
women to just stop meds immediately when they find out that they’re pregnant, but then they’re
suffering throughout their pregnancy and this is something that definitely needs to be addressed.
Then in the postpartum period, you have a lot of similarities between just being a new
mother with a newborn, and depression, like not getting a lot of sleep, being tired, irritable,
and these questions need to be asked, because it’s not so clear that a woman may come out
and say that. There’s also fears in breastfeeding … Which is common with anyone who’s struggled
with depression, especially during pregnancy, and they are at an increased risk for postpartum
depression. They need to take meds but are afraid to take those meds. That needs to be
addressed. Sometimes women have issues with their premenstrual
week, right before menses, and it can have an impact in relationships in a way that is
not consciously understood. We need to talk about that. When they come to see a psychiatric
professional or a psychologist, we need to ask them, “What are your relationships like
when you are doing your premenstrual phase? How are your relationships during pregnancy
and the postpartum period?” A lot of women, because of the pressures and the guilt, their
marriages may suffer. Let’s ask about the marriage. Women are very … relational, and
are very impacted by the breakdown of relationships. They tend to be generally speaking a little
more relational than men and it plays a major impact, especially with losses, a disruption
in relationships, death, being moved from one location to another, their spouse may
have a job and get promoted and they’re taken away from their support system and feel in
isolation. The transition between a reproductive phase of life to a perimenopausal stage of
life can be traumatic for a woman. She can feel as if she’s not useful anymore because
she’s no longer able to reproduce, or a woman of reproductive age who can’t reproduce and
faces infertility issues, and how much those kinds of things, in a woman, how they play
a role in mental illness. We can address the chemistry with medications,
but with that, if you don’t address some of these other issues, the symptoms are going
to recur, and they’re going to continue to recur, and kind of go beyond what the medications
are able to do, and I would like to put a spotlight on that, so woman can come out from
the shadows and ask for help, and go beyond that fear of being judged and get the help
that they need so they can live the life that God created them to live. If you are a mother,
a daughter, a sister, a good friend, and you are struggling with depression, and you are
suffering in silence, fearful of telling someone, fearful of being judged, I just want to tell
you to not be afraid. Do not be afraid, because there’s hope. I’ve seen it. There is hope
for you to get the support and the love that you need in order to achieve the abundant
and significant life of quality that God created you to live.

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