Women's Health USA 2007
Photographs of women's faces
Health Status > Health Indicators
Mental Illness and Suicide

Mental illness affects both sexes, although many types of mental disorders are more prevalent among women. Among adults interviewed in 2001–03, 23.0 percent of women had experienced any anxiety disorder in the past year, compared to 13.8 percent of men. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of mental disorder that can occur in those who have experienced or witnessed life-threatening events such as natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist incidents, acts of war, or violent personal assaults such as rape.1 While PTSD was previously thought of as primarily affecting male war veterans, it is now understood that the disorder affects both sexes and is actually more prevalent in females (5.2 versus 1.8 percent). Other common mental disorders include social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder, all of which are more common among women than men.

Among women, mental disorders are most common among those aged 18–25 years. Serious psychological distress occurs among almost 23 percent of women in this age group, compared to nearly 16 percent of women aged 26–49 years and 9.0 percent of women aged 50 years and older. Major depressive disorder displays a similar pattern, occurring most frequently among those women 18–25 years (12.9 percent), compared to 26- to 49-year-olds and those aged 50 years and older (10.5 and 6.6 percent, respectively).

Although most people who suffer from mental illness do not commit suicide, mental illness is a major risk factor. Women attempt suicide three times as often than men, but men are much more likely to die of suicide injury than women.2 In 2004, the female suicide death rate among those aged 15 years and older was 5.7 per 100,000 females, compared to a rate of 22.4 per 100,000 males. Although mental disorders affect women in younger age groups more often than women in older age groups, women aged 45–54 years have the highest suicide death rate among females (8.6 per 100,000). Among males, the highest suicide death rate occurs in the 65–84 age group (27.2 per 100,000).

There are also disparities in suicide rates among racial and ethnic groups. Among females aged 15 years and older, American Indian/Alaska Natives have the highest suicide rate (8.0 per 100,000 females), followed by non-Hispanic Whites (6.8 per 100,000). Non-Hispanic Black females have the lowest suicide rates among all racial and ethnic groups (2.3 per 100,000), closely followed by Hispanic females (2.5 per 100,000).

1 American Psychiatric Association. Let’s talk facts about Posttraumatic stress disorder. 2006 Nov. http://healthyminds.org. Viewed 4/18/07.

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Suicide: Fact Sheet. www.cdc.gov/ncipc. Viewed 4/18/07.


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Women's Health USA 2007 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2007. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007.