Women’s Mental Health: We are Not Androgynous

Postpartum Support International’s 2011 Conference

Great to see Dr. Jeanne Driscoll !


There were so many great speakers talking about the complexities of caring for women in the perinatal period. Dr. Jeanne Driscoll, a practicing psychologist and nurse-practitioner, is co-author with Deborah Sichel, MD of Women’s Moods: What every woman must know about hormones, the brain, and emotional health was one of the keynote speakers. Dr. Driscoll presented her own qualitative study about women living with bipolar II disorder. She said she conducted the study because of the paucity of research specifically about women with bipolar II disorder.


As an aside: A qualitative study is a focused, in depth study of a small group of participants intimately investigating their personal, nuanced emotional and psychological experiences. I love qualitative research! It is a great complement to quantitative research. For example, quantitative research shows us that, once puberty hits, depression is twice as common in women than men. Qualitative research gives us insight into personal experiences so we can discover why this statistic might be so.


Dr. Driscoll presented some of the following themes regarding women’s mental health (maternal mental health) which emerged in her latest research:


  • The women in the study generally validated the following statements:
    • If a woman doesn’t feel as if she being heard, she silences herself.
    • Women are relational
      • Women tend to put the other as more powerful than herself.
      • Women tend to change what she has power over: herself – in order to stay in relationship.
  • The women in the study needed to recover from an average of eight years of misdiagnosis.
  • The women in the study had to rebuild their self-esteem after having an improperly diagnosed and basically untreated, mental illness for many many years.
  • Acknowledging and accepting the bipolar II diagnosis is a process
  • The diagnosis was the beginning of a long period of healing and self-acceptance
  • The women in the study went through the antidepressant shuffle in those eight years without being relieved of their symptoms.
  • Women’s moods varied with their physiology, and their moods are affected by their hormonal cycle.
  • The drugs that seemed to work best in controlling bipolar II symptoms are lithium and Lamictal (lamotrigine)
  • Different types of birth control pills can be triggers to mood state changes
  • Menopause can be a trigger to the onset of a mood disorder
  • Early symptoms of bipolar II disorder are passive thoughts of suicide, and the appearance of sleep disorders
  • Although there are these obvious physical differences and triggers to mood disorders in women, major gender-specific studies are not initiated.
  • Male & female mood disorders are commonly treated the same.


Seeing Dr. Driscoll speak had special personal meaning to me. Over ten years ago,  I read Women’s Moods when I was a mental health counselor in community health.

I ran lots of groups for persons with severe and persistent mental illness.

One was a Women’s Issues group. (I am going to speak about them in a composite manner, so as not to reveal any specific information about an individual.) I remember how beautiful the women were. Sadly, there were many women with severe mental health issues. There was much dialog about how their menstrual cycle and pregnancies affected them.


I read those women Women’s Moods. Drs. Sichel and Driscoll demonstrated  how the fluctuating hormonal concentrations in a woman’s blood stream at different times of the month change the required level of medication needed to control symptoms.   They were intelligent women, and got this concept right away!  It was exciting to validate their internal experiences in that way!

They and I were powerless to change the system, but it was liberating to read it and for them to hear it.

Now, there are many women’s groups banding together and we are getting our voices heard.


But the system has not changed since then.

Are we not important enough to study?


If not now, when?



And of course this blog post is not intended as a substitute for healthcare by your own practitioner. Consult with your doctor for more information about diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues.

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4 Responses to “Women’s Mental Health: We are Not Androgynous”

  • That’s so interesting (and sad) about depression rising dramatically when females reach puberty. Did she mention why this doesn’t happen to men?

    Is the long lag time of eight years to treat and medicating for Depression rather than BDI the cause? I know that antidepressants can bring on mania in misdx Bipolar Disorders.

    Great research, and a wonderful summary Kathy–I almost feel like I was there.

    Thanks for sharing:).

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Linda – What she said was that depression rises in both males & females as puberty. She did not discuss the reasons for the higher rate of depression in females than males. She was just presenting about her specific study on women & bipolar II disease.
      There are so many theories as to why depression rates in women are higher than in men. I have personal favorite theories, which are along the composite of biopsychosocial research. I have some researchers who have some qualitative research about this topic. I’m sorry I don’t have this at my fingertips right now, need to dig it out. I think I may do a blog post about this, as I have done quite a bit of research on this. Thanks, Linda! .

  • Sometimes it makes me laugh that we need scientific studies to validate what’s so obvious: Women’s moods varied with their physiology, and their moods moods are affected by their hormonal cycle.

    I get really teary about a week before my period, and in recent years have also suffered from insomnia during that time (which only makes the sadness and teariness worse!). I think what we need to study are possible solutions–this has gone on too long!

    • BirthTouch:

      Hi Jen – Thanks for the input! It is an interesting commentary on the state of our society when women’s moods are not studied in a different light than men’s moods. The treatment for male & female depression remains the same, with variations for using birth control pills as well with women. The research that Sichel & Driscoll did regarding how the levels of psychotrophic medication vary in a female’s bloodstream during cycle fluctuations has not been incorporated into the standard of care plans of psychiatric care, as there hasn’t been much effort to replicate this study….. (as of yet? never?). Jeanne Driscoll is one of the sole voices out there talking about this seriously. I don’t know, it seems worth more study to me.
      take care, Kathy

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