Women and Mental Health
Mental disorders can affect women and men differently. Some disorders are more common in women such as depression and anxiety. There are also certain types of disorders that are unique to women. For example, some women may experience symptoms of mental disorders at times of hormone change, such as perinatal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression. When it comes to other mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, research has not found differences in the rates at which men and women experience these illnesses. But women may experience these illnesses differently – certain symptoms may be more common in women than in men, and the course of the illness can be affected by the sex of the individual. Researchers are only now beginning to tease apart the various biological and psychosocial factors that may impact the mental health of both women and men.
Women and men can develop most of the same mental disorders and conditions, but may experience different symptoms. Some symptoms include:
- Persistent sadness or feelings of hopelessness
- Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Excessive fear or worry
- Seeing or hearing things that are not there
- Extremely high and low moods
- Aches, headaches, or digestive problems without a clear cause
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal thoughts
Mental disorders can be treated: If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor or visit NIMH’s Help for Mental Illnesses webpage. Asking questions and providing information to your doctor and other providers can improve your care. Talking with your doctor builds trust and leads to better results, quality, safety, and satisfaction. Visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website for more information.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis, get help immediately. You can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Bench-to-Bedside: NIMH Research Leading to Brexanolone, First-Ever Drug Specifically for Postpartum Depression
• Media Advisory
FDA approval of the postpartum depression treatment brexanolone represents the final phase of a bench-to-bedside journey for this drug — a journey that began in the NIMH Intramural Research Program. NIMH experts are available to provide information on postpartum depression and the importance of, and the science underlying, this new drug.
- Inflammation in Pregnant Moms Linked to Child’s Brain Development
• Science Update
High levels of maternal inflammation during pregnancy have been linked to effects in children, including reduced brain circuit communications and altered long-distance brain wiring at birth, poorer cognitive function at one year – and to reduced impulse control and working memory at two years.
- Estrogen Alters Memory Circuit Function in Women with Gene Variant
• Science Update
Brain scans reveal that fluctuations in estrogen can trigger atypical functioning in a key brain memory circuit in women with a common version of a gene. Since working memory function is often disturbed in mental disorders, such gene-hormone interactions are suspect mechanisms that may confer risk.
Health Topics and Resources
Featured Health Topics
Featured Brochures and Factsheets
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Learn more about depression among women, including risk factors for depression, and postpartum depression.
- National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD): Learn more about NICHD’s Moms’ Mental Health Matters initiative and the PregSource research project.
- NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH): Discover resources for mothers about maternal health on ORWH’s Maternal Morbidity and Mortality portal.
- Office on Women’s Health (OWH): Learn more about women’s mental health on the OWH’s website, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- Women’s Health: Medline Plus: Learn more about the unique health issues women have.
- Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA): Learn more about depression during and after pregnancy on HRSA’s website.
This video provides patient testimony and information on the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and reinforces the importance of seeking help and treatment from a health professional.
This video describes research on the underlying molecular mechanisms on woman’s susceptibility to disabling irritability, sadness, and anxiety in the days leading up to her menstrual period.
These series of videos feature NIMH grantee Dr. Cynthia Bulik, who describes the different types of eating disorders and debunks myths.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: The Lifeline provides 24-hour, toll-free, and confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area. Support is available in English and Spanish and via live chat.
- Disaster Distress Hotline: People affected by any disaster or tragedy can call this helpline, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to receive immediate counseling. Call 1-800-985-5990 to connect with trained professional from the closest crisis counseling center within the network.
- Veterans Crisis Line: This helpline is a free, confidential resource for Veterans of all ages and circumstances. Call 1-800-273-8255, press "1"; text 838255; or chat online to connect with 24/7 support.
- Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 for free and confidential support 24 hours a day throughout the U.S.
- More NIH Information Lines
Live Chats with Experts
Join NIMH as we host or participate in live online chats that cover a variety of mental health topics! An expert in scientific and health issues will be available to answer your questions. Dates, times, topics, and hashtags for our chats will be announced on the NIMH homepage and through Twitter and Facebook.
Clinical research is medical research that involves people like you. People volunteer to participate in carefully conducted investigations that ultimately uncover better ways to treat, prevent, diagnose, and understand human disease. Clinical research includes trials that test new treatments and therapies as well as long–term natural history studies, which provide valuable information about how disease and health progress.
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) conduct a large number of research studies with patients and healthy volunteers. Our researchers are currently working to identify the causes of, treatments for, and predictors of risk for reproductive endocrine-related mood disorders including the following:
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD, a severe premenstrual syndrome)
In addition to these disorders, NIMH researchers are also studying other mental disorders that affect women such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. To find studies being conducted at the NIMH, visit Join a Study: Adults.
Our studies take place at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and require regular visits. If you don’t live nearby but are interested in finding a clinical trial near you, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.
Why should women participate in a clinical study?
Sex and gender can influence health in important ways. You can help scientists learn more about the differences and make it possible to draw conclusions that advance health for both women and men. NIMH is committed to ensuring that women trying to decide whether to enroll in a clinical study get all the information they need to feel comfortable and make informed decisions.
Last Revised: May 2019
Unless otherwise specified, NIMH information and publications are in the public domain and available for use free of charge. Citation of NIMH is appreciated. Please see our Citing NIMH Information and Publications page for more information.