How mood and anxiety disorders affect women

Despite high rates of mental illness in Canada, people are still reluctant to talk about it. Learning more about common conditions is the first step

How mood and anxiety disorders affect women


How common is mental illness?

Mental illness is very common in Canada. One in five people’about 7 million Canadians’will have a mental illness in their lifetime. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and mental illness is a leading cause of disability.

Mental illness includes mood and anxiety disorders that can change the way people think, feel and behave. Women are more than twice as likely as men to suffer from these conditions. It’s thought that biological, hormonal and psychosocial factors contribute to this difference in rates of mental illness.

What are mood disorders?

We all feel blue or have bad days from time to time. Mood disorders are much more serious’they are medical conditions that can affect the body as well as the mind. Mood disorders include depression, mania and bipolar disorder.

Clinical depression, or major depression, is the most common’about 16% of Canadian women (and 11% of men) will experience it. Symptoms include a depressed mood, feelings of guilt or sadness, low self-esteem, sleep disturbances, fatigue, loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed, changes in appetite or weight, problems with concentration, or thoughts of death. (If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, seek medical help immediately.)

If not treated, depression can persist for months or years. Treatment options include counselling (cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT) and medications, and many people benefit from support groups and lifestyle changes, such as increasing exercise and eating a healthier diet.

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. They include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobias. While some anxiety is normal in day-to-day life, the persistence and severity of anxiety disorders can make it difficult to work, study, socialize and handle everyday tasks. People who have anxiety may suffer from depression as well.

If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to see your doctor. Treatment may include counselling, medication, self-help strategies (such as problem-solving, stress management or relaxation techniques) or a support group.


Combatting stigma

More than 60 per cent of people with mental health problems don’t seek help, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. A major reason for this is the enduring stigma against mental illness. Stigma, or the negative attitudes and beliefs that some people hold toward individuals with mental illness, is very common.

The Mayo Clinic recommends dealing with stigma by seeking treatment, educating yourself and others about mental illness, and connecting with people going through a similar experience. Reaching out to family members, friends, community members and support groups helps prevent isolation.

Boost mental health with fitness

Physical exercise can help improve mental health. Aerobic exercise, such as running, increases the brain’s serotonin level, which elevates mood’in fact, raising your heart rate for at least 25 minutes can have the same effect as antidepressants and structured talk therapy. Running with other women also offers the opportunity to socialize.

You can even combine exercise with fundraising for a good cause: Shoppers Drug Mart’s third Run for WOMEN is taking place in 12 Canadian cities from April to June. Money raised will support mental health programs for women. Funds raised at last year’s event are supporting much-needed research into mental health and pregnancy, says Dr. Dawn Kingston, Assistant Professor, University of Alberta specializing in Women’s Mental Health.

Learn more about mental health

To learn more about mood and anxiety disorders, talk to your family doctor and visit the website of the Canadian Mental Health Association.