How to Recognize the Warning Signs of Mental Illness in Women

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What are the warning signs of mental illness in women?Many familiar mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are more common in women than in men. And unfortunately, women sometimes live with a mental illness for months, even years, before seeking treatment. At times, this is because they don’t even realize the severity of the problem until life spirals out of control. Due to today’s busy lifestyle, women may chalk symptoms up to stress or burnout, when they actually have a bigger problem.

So, how do you know? How do you know if you are just stressed? Or, how do you know if you might be experiencing a mental illness that should be diagnosed and treated by a mental health professional? Let’s look at some common signs of mental illness to help you figure this out.

Signs Unique to Women

Women tend to experience mental illness slightly differently than men. Specifically, women are more prone to internalizing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, while men are more prone to externalizing mental illnesses such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and antisocial behaviors.[i] An internalizing mental illness is one which causes a person to turn inward. It often leads to withdrawal, ruminating, loneliness, and feelings of sadness. Women who find themselves retreating from life and internalizing their emotions should consider the possibility of a mental illness when this sign is combined with other factors.

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Women also tend to experience more physical symptoms in the context of mental illness than men.[ii] Headaches, stomachaches, chronic pain, and high blood pressure can all be symptoms of mental illness. Other physical signs include sleep difficulties, weight fluctuations, lack of energy, or a low sex drive. Physical symptoms should always be checked out by a medical doctor. But, once a medical diagnosis is ruled out, women who experience unexplained physical symptoms may consider the possibility of an undiagnosed mental illness.

General Signs of Mental Illness

There are also a number of universal signs of mental illness that are equally applicable to both men and women. See if you can find yourself in the following list.

  • Difficulty functioning in life. Sometimes the first signs of mental illness are seen in decreased functioning. This might appear as bad grades, poor work performance, failing to following through on responsibilities, difficulty coping with stress, or problems in personal relationships.
  • Changes in mood and emotion. Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes or fluctuations in mood are another primary sign of many mental illnesses. This might be displayed as a depressed mood, feelings of euphoria, excessive energy, lack of emotion, or feelings of apathy. Alternatively, a person might experience excessive guilt, fear, shame, or anger.
  • Cognitive deficiencies. These can include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, or spells of confusion. Any troubling cognitive symptoms of this nature should be assessed for a possible mental illness.
  • Risky or uncharacteristic behaviors. Mental illness sometimes leads to risky behaviors such as spending exorbitant amounts of money, engaging in risky sexual behaviors, or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes a dual diagnosis is present in which a person experiences an addiction to drugs or alcohol in addition to a diagnosis such as depression or PTSD.
  • Breaks with reality. Breaks with reality are found in psychotic disorders. These might manifest in the form of delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, or a sense of detachment from the world.

What You Can Do

If you notice signs of a possible mental illness in yourself or a loved one, take the time to check this out. Seek out a treatment center for women where you can be assessed and diagnosed by a trained mental health professional.

Various forms of therapy can help you manage a mental health diagnosis. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression or anxiety or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) for borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder may be options provided by your therapist.

Take the time to remember these signs and be on the lookout for them in your life. Sometimes, the earlier you catch the onset of a mental illness, the more easily it can be treated and managed.


[i] Eaton, N. R., Keyes, K. M., Krueger, R. F., Balsis, S., Skodol, A. E., Markon, K. E., Grant, B. F., Hasin, D. S. (2012). An invariant dimensional liability model of gender differences in mental disorder prevalence: Evidence from a national sample. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 12(1), 282-8.
[ii] Haug, T. T., Mykletun, A., Dahl, A. A. (2004). The association between anxiety, depression, and somatic symptoms in a large population: the HUNT-II study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(6), 845-51

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