This month is Mental Health Awareness month. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are 1 in 6 Americans (44 million Americans over the age of 18 years)  living with a mental illness. Mental illness covers a broad spectrum ranging from mild to severe and tends to affect women more than men. Depression is the most common mental illness. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men.

There are certain kinds of depression unique to women. These include premenstrual dysphoric disorder (commonly known as PMS), perinatal depression (widely known as postpartum depression) and perimenopausal depression.

Living with a chronic illness such as type 2 diabetes can be very overwhelming, and some people may experience depressive symptoms but do not have significant clinical depression.

Examples of depressive symptoms

-feelings of sadness or overwhelm nearly every day
-thoughts of worthlessness almost every day
-lack of motivation or feeling agitated almost every day
-loss of interest in everyday activities almost every day
-the inability of sleep or excessive sleep almost every day
-loss of appetite and/or a significant change in weight
-decreased ability to concentrate
-thoughts of harming oneself such as suicide

So how do you know if you are just having depressive symptoms or if you have a diagnosis of major depression?  Depressive symptoms do not last a long time. A person with major depression experiences at least three of the symptoms listed plus feeling depressed on and off for a prolonged period up- to two years.

What to do if you feel you have a mental illness

If you or someone you know is facing a mental illness, please seek help immediately. Not all depression is mental illness, and not all mental illness is depression.
There are some medical conditions especially in women that may cause a change in the mood and appear to be depression.

Some examples:
Thyroid disorder particularly hypothyroidism
-hormonal imbalances such as menopause
-food intolerances such as gluten sensitivity
-disrupted sleep patterns in conditions like sleep apnea
-vitamin B12 and/or folate deficiency
-low blood count (anemia)

Your healthcare provider may perform some blood-work to make sure you do not have a treatable medical condition.
If treatable medical conditions have been ruled out, then your healthcare provider most likely will recommend you to a mental health specialist.

Treating Mental illness

When it comes to treating mental illness, there are several options. It depends on the nature of the mental illness. Seeking treatment with a licensed mental healthcare professional is essential.  ‘Talk therapy’ may be a starting point. There are many types of talk therapy such as counseling, psychotherapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy. But some types of mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or severe depression may also require the use of medications right from the start.

Nutrition is also important. Pay attention to what you are eating. Eat a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods which contain a healthy ratio of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as phytonutrients (plant sourced micronutrients).

Suicide risk and mental illness

Mental health illness triggers a lot of stigmas. People with mental health issues may go through a lot of emotional pain and feel isolated. They may be afraid to seek help. Some people dealing with a mental illness may begin to have suicidal thoughts or even resort to suicide.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or alcoholism. Most people who commit suicide may have attempted suicide in the past. They may do so because they want the physical and emotional pain they have been going through to stop and ending their lives may seem to be the only resort.

In summary, it is essential that as women we pay particular attention to our mental health as well as that of our loved ones. If you or someone you love is living with an untreated mental illness, please get help immediately. It is possible to prevent suicide Suicide is preventable with the right intervention.

Some mental health resources:

Depression in women- Five things you should know

National suicide prevention line

Department of Health and Human Services


To your health and wellbeing,