Rikki-Lee Lawrence is no stranger to the pressures of facing depression and anxiety as a young woman.
It all started at work in 2009, when Rikki-Lee had her first panic attack. In 2010 she was diagnosed with depression, which dramatically affected her work, family and social life.
“Now when I go out I’m always worrying when my next attack may be. Any situation where I am not in control is when my anxiety plays up”
Along with Rikki-Lee her mother has also suffered depression and anxiety for 17 years. “It was incredibly hard for me to tell my Mum, she felt it was somehow her fault.”
Rikki-Lee has been confronted with stigma and misconception after speaking out about her depression “It was really hard for people to understand as they always saw a happy person. That’s why campaigns such as Liptember, are incredibly important, helping raise mental health awareness and further educating people on these issues.”
While the vast majority of mental health practitioners now accept women and men have different mental health issues, there is still relatively little research around gender-specific mental health issues and very few education and training resources specially designed for health professionals caring for women experiencing mental health problems.
Spotting the signs of mental health problems or distress in your life is not easy. Many women are able to carry on their day-to-day lives and not reveal, even those closest to them, how they are feeling.
This may be because they want to seem strong, they don’t want to upset family and friends, they don’t want to admit to themselves let alone others that there is something wrong, or because they can’t identify in themselves why they are feeling so anxious, sad, angry or hopeless. Often, it’s because they feel they must be strong and cope for others. And of course, there is fear of the stigma of having a mental health problem.
Fortunately, most people now understand mental health problems, like other health problems, are not the ‘fault’ of the individual, and are not due to being ‘weak’, and most importantly it’s critical to detect mental health problems early before they cause major problems in a woman’s personal, social and school/occupational functioning. Effective treatments for mental health problems are available.
The most common mental illnesses experienced by women are depression, and anxiety, and one in three women will suffer depression or anxiety during their lifetime.
- Depression is commonly reported to be twice as common in women as in men, and occurs most frequently during and following pregnancy, and in mid-life, often associated with the menopause
- Anxiety is the most common mental health problem experienced by women; it may occur as the major problem or accompany other mental health problems particularly depression
- Deliberate self-harm is common in adolescents; more so in young women than young men. It is often associated with depression and/or substance abuse
- Eating disorders, both bulimia and anorexia nervosa, affect more women than men.
Whilst less frequent in women than in men, problems related to excessive alcohol use and illicit drug use should not be forgotten.
Often, more than one problem may occur together. Often the occurrence of anxiety and depression together is more common than either alone. Women with anxiety may ‘self-treat’ with alcohol, leading to the dual problem of anxiety and alcohol abuse.
Early identification and effective treatment are important. Generally, the first place to seek help is your general practitioner, who may then organise for further assessment and treatment with a psychologist or a psychiatrist. If you suspect that you, or someone close to you may have a mental health problem, seek advice from your GP.
Here are some tips to help you identify possible mental health issues in those around you.
Depression may be associated with: Low mood, irritability, can’t be bothered, trouble sleeping, poor appetite and weight loss, feeling like you can’t cope with/don’t do well at school or job and avoiding friends and social activities
Anxiety may manifest as: Intense worry or fears that get in the way of daily activities, feeling ‘wired’ or ‘like adrenaline rushing through the body’, feeling panicky, heart racing, trouble breathing or avoiding public or social situations, or feeling short of breath
Problems with drugs or alcohol: Increased use- frequency and/or amount, ‘needing’ a drink, drinking during the day or drinking alone
All funds raised will be donated to Liptember’s beneficiaries: the Centre for Women’s Mental Health, which conducts research and training programs in women’s mental health, and Lifeline Australia, a 24 hour crisis support service connecting Australians with trained volunteers who can provide emotional support to anyone, anywhere, anytime.