Home » blog » Gender and Bipolar Disorder: Addressing the Challenges of Bipolar Disorder for Women
Gender and Bipolar Disorder: Addressing the Challenges of Bipolar Disorder for Women

Gender and Bipolar Disorder: Addressing the Challenges of Bipolar Disorder for Women

Bipolar disorder is a highly prevalent mental health disorder that impacts millions of people in the U.S. every year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 40 million people worldwide experience difficulties with bipolar disorder, particularly bipolar I. Moreover, bipolar disorder does not discriminate, as it occurs at an equal rate among men and women. As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes, the prevalence of bipolar disorder for males and females is 2.9% and 2.8%, respectively. 

Despite similarities in prevalence for men and women, in adolescence, bipolar disorder has been higher for girls. The NIMH states in a given year bipolar disorder among girls is 3.3% compared to 2.6% for boys. Thus, the increased prevalence of bipolar disorder among young women speaks to the concept of gender differences in disorders.

At New Creation Recovery, we recognize that women have unique emotional and physical needs for recovery. However, many traditional rehab programs do not acknowledge the impact gender can have on your psychological well-being. When gender-responsive care is not a focal point in treatment, women often fall through the cracks. Whether you have co-occurring SUD with a mental health disorder or not, gender differences can influence treatment retention. Gender disparities in accessing treatment programs like gender-specific SUD and mental health stigma contribute to poor help-seeking behaviors.

As a result, at New Creation Recovery, we are committed to making sure women looking for treatment centers near me find such a facility that is accessible to all women. Through our commitment to a gender-responsive women’s-only treatment program, you can find the support you need to heal. With holistic care at a Christian rehab center, you can find personalized treatment to meet you where you are. Whether you need support healing addiction, mental health challenges, or dual diagnosis, we can provide all the tools you need to thrive. Concerning bipolar disorder, increasing your knowledge of this disorder can support self-understanding and better health outcomes.

Expanding your access to information and knowledge can empower you to address your specific recovery needs. With holistic Christian-based recovery programs, you can learn how gender impacts psychological well-being to healing in mind, body, and spirit. Thus, the first step toward fostering long-term recovery is understanding how bipolar disorder impacts your life specifically. Although, everyone experiences bipolar disorder differently, understanding bipolar disorder and gender differences can give you insight into your specific challenges.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

As the Office of Women’s Health notes, bipolar disorder, formally known as manic-depressive illness, encompasses several different types. The types of bipolar disorder include bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, cyclothymic disorder (or cyclothymia), and other specified and unspecified bipolar disorders. At the core, bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that presents extreme changes in mood, behavior, energy levels, and activity levels. The two most common forms of bipolar disorder are bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder. 

However, you may question what makes each type of bipolar disorder different from each other. The major difference between each type of bipolar disorder is the severity of changes in your mood and behavior coupled with how quickly those changes come and go. Yet, overall, the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder can be described as a chronic mood disorder that typically features manic, depressive, and in some cases hypomanic and mixed episodes. As MedlinePlus states, the episodes of bipolar disorder reflect the intense “mood swing” symptoms of the disorder. For example, manic and depressive episodes are the extreme ups and downs in your mood. 

In manic episodes, you may feel extremely energized, elated, or irritable. However, in depressive episodes, you may feel intensely sad, hopeless, or indifferent. Typically, you will experience manic and depressive episodes in cycles, in which one episode type happens at a given time. In some cases, you may experience mixed episodes in which you experience manic and depressive symptoms at the same time. Further, hypomanic episodes are a feature of bipolar II in which you experience a less severe form of mania. In comparison to manic episodes, hypomanic episodes do not last as long and are less disruptive to daily functioning. 

Overall, when left untreated, bipolar disorder can be detrimental to every part of your life – from work and school to daily functioning and relationships. With more awareness of bipolar disorder as a mood disorder, you can better understand how significant shifts in emotions impact functioning. Mood disorders are a disruption in emotions, which can have a profound impact on how you cope with everyday experiences. 

Moreover, despite the various factors that can contribute to developing a mood disorder, they are more prevalent among women. The higher prevalence of mood disorders among women can be associated with several different factors, including differences based on sex and gender. Therefore, looking at different factors like genetics, socialization, societal expectations, and the prevalence of stressful life events, to name a few, can support you in understanding how bipolar specifically impacts women.

Understanding Gender Differences in Bipolar Disorder

According to “Sex Differences in Bipolar Disorders: Impact on Psychopathological Features and Treatment Response” by Giulia Menculini et al., differences in sex and gender have an impact on the presentation of bipolar disorder. Listed below are some of the different ways bipolar disorder presents in and affects females compared to males:

  • The age of onset and diagnosis of bipolar disorder is typically higher for females
  • Women are more likely to experience rapid cycling between manic and depressive episodes
  • There is a higher chance of relapse during pregnancy due to medication risk factors
  • More women are diagnosed with bipolar II disorder
  • Women are more likely to have mixed episodes
  • There are higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among women with bipolar disorder
  • Women are more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar I later in life
  • More likely to have mixed episodes of mania/hypomania and depression
  • There is a higher co-occurrence of other physical and mental health conditions
  • Women experience a higher prevalence of seasonal patterns
    • You experience more bipolar episodes in the fall and winter

Looking at some of the different ways bipolar disorder presents in women highlights the significance of sex and gender differences in the disorder. However, beyond differences in presentation and prevalence, sex and gender differences can impact the symptoms women experience. Thus, knowing the specific symptoms and causes of those symptoms women experience can support understanding the impact of bipolar disorder on women.

Symptoms and Causes of Bipolar Disorder in Women

Some of the signs and causes of symptom severity of bipolar disorder in women include:

  • Women diagnosed with bipolar II experience less severe manic episodes known as hypomania
  • Hypomania makes mania less pronounced and obvious to others
    • High energy, racing thoughts, impulsive decision-making, and decreased need to sleep
  • You experience more frequent depressive episodes
  • Women experience more severe symptoms of mania
  • You are more likely to have higher rates of depression
  • Rapid cycling is four or more different episodes in a year
  • A higher prevalence of co-occurring challenges with other conditions
    • Alcohol misuse
    • Other mental health conditions like depression and borderline personality disorder
    • Thyroid disease
    • Migraines
    • Disordered eating conditions
    • Medication-induced obesity
  • Hormonal changes can exacerbate the severity of bipolar disorder symptoms
    • Menstrual cycle: increased risk of depression and other mood disorders
    • Pregnancy: postpartum women experience higher rates of bipolar disorder onset and relapse
    • Menopause

Looking at the signs, symptoms, and symptom severity of bipolar disorder for women showcases the importance of treatment. Without treatment, bipolar symptoms can impair functioning and increase your risk for other health issues. In particular, the higher prevalence of co-occurring challenges with substances like alcohol can further impede recovery.

The Prevalence of Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder

Although men are more likely to experience co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) and bipolar disorder, SUD is highly prevalent in bipolar disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 30% to over 50% of individuals with bipolar I or bipolar II will develop SUD at some point in their lifetime. Moreover, alcohol misuse is the most common substance used in co-occurrence with bipolar disorder. 

The high prevalence of co-occurring bipolar disorder and SUD can stem from a variety of risk factors, such as genetic predisposition, self-medication, and difficulty regulating impulsivity. Despite the wide range of risk factors, understanding the root causes of your challenges can support better health outcomes. When left unaddressed, co-occurring bipolar disorder and SUD can have significant consequences on your well-being. As stated in Medicina, the multitude of negative consequences that can stem from co-occurring bipolar disorder and SUD include:

  • Higher symptom severity
  • Earlier onset of conditions
  • More likely to experience frequent relapses 
  • A less effective response to treatment medication
  • Worse course outcomes for both bipolar disorder and SUD
  • Poor treatment compliance and adherence
  • Less social support
  • Likely to experience more rapid cycling
  • More negative and cognitive symptoms
  • Increases risk for suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicide
  • You are less likely to receive any or adequate bipolar disorder treatment with a history of SUD 
  • More psychosocial challenges like unemployment and financial instability
  • Increases risk for manic, hypomanic, or mixed phases following depression

Despite the number and severity of consequences for unaddressed co-occurring conditions, there are still challenges to healing. For women in particular, there are gender-based barriers that can impede access to effective support for lasting recovery. However, understanding the gender barriers in bipolar disorder treatment can support dismantling barriers to care.

Addressing Gender Barriers to Care

There are a variety of barriers that impede access to bipolar disorder treatment regardless of sex and gender. The cost of medical care and lack of cooperation from insurance companies are just a couple of the care barriers people face. More specifically for bipolar disorder, challenges with mental health stigma play a major role in seeking and receiving effective care. As noted in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, stigma is one of the most common social issues that impede the lives of people living with bipolar disorder. Some of the many ways stigma impairs well-being include:

  • Social rejection and isolation
  • Loss of supportive interpersonal relationships
  • Low self-esteem
  • Reduced income or unemployment

Thus, the presence of barriers, regardless of demographics, further highlights the pronounced barriers marginalized communities face. In particular, several barriers impede access to and use of effective resources for women. Some of the barriers that women face in diagnosing bipolar disorder and accessing effective bipolar disorder treatment include:

  • Gender-based misdiagnosis: Bipolar disorder has a high prevalence of misdiagnosis with major depression disorder (MDD)
    • Women are more likely than men to be misdiagnosed with MDD
      • There is a lack of research on how different conditions present in women
      • Bipolar disorder may present differently in women compared to men
      • Gender-based prejudice and discrimination
        • Women are perceived as more or overly emotional
          • Symptoms complaints are often ignored or minimized 
  • Health conditions: Some medications can disrupt reproductive functioning and increase the risk for other health conditions
    • Menstrual irregularities 
    • Lithium-associated hypothyroidism
    • Lithium-induced thyroiditis
  • Sex and gender-specific experiences: Pregnancy and postpartum can hinder symptom management and increase relapse
    • Difficulty addressing treatment options for pregnancy and birth 
  • Gender-based stigma: Women experience more mental health stigma due to gender roles and societal expectations
    • In many societies, women are placed in positions of subordination
    • Many cultures associate mental health disorders with weakness or vulnerability

The gender-specific barriers women face in treating bipolar disorder are often interrelated to poor knowledge and understanding. Thus, an important tool in dismantling stigma and barriers to care for women with bipolar disorder is education. 

Uncovering the Value of Mental Health Literacy at New Creation Recovery

Through individual and public efforts, education can be utilized to increase understanding and support people with mental health challenges. Moreover, culturally sensitive approaches to mental health education can support a wider range of communities. As noted in Cureus, understanding cultural contexts is an important tool in addressing stigma. The cultural beliefs and attitudes surrounding mental health disorders can influence how stigma and other barriers manifest. Therefore, understanding the cultural context of the experiences of women with bipolar disorder can support building strategies for recovery. Listed below are some of the educational strategies that can be used to enhance support for the well-being of women:

  • Public awareness campaigns: support dismantling misconceptions and foster understanding of mental health disorders
    • Presenting accurate information can dispel myths, reduce stigma, and encourage empathy
      • Reduces fear and avoidance of people with mental health disorders
      • Supports identifying people as individuals rather than defining them as their mental health disorder
  • Educational interventions: focuses on increasing knowledge and awareness of mental health disorders to reduce negative stereotypes
    • In-person workshops, online courses, media campaigns, family psychoeducational therapy
  • Contact-based interventions: encourage interactions between people with mental health disorders and the public
    • Helps challenge negative attitudes and beliefs about mental health disorders
  • Gender and cultural sensitivity training: works to equip healthcare providers with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand and respect different backgrounds and experiences
    • Reduces stigma in healthcare settings
    • Increases healthcare providers’ understanding of factors like gender on health behaviors
    • Improves client-clinician communication and trust
      • Reduces perceived stigma
  • Person-first language: recognizes the impact words can have on how people think about and view people living with mental health disorders
    • Say “a person with bipolar disorder” rather than “a bipolar person”
      • Acknowledges that bipolar disorder is something a person has rather than who that person is
      • Bipolar disorder is a part of your experience but does not define who you are
  • Peer support programs: you engage in peer-to-peer advocacy to share your lived experiences with mental health disorders
    • Helps normalize mental health disorders
    • Challenges stigma and dispels myths
    • Reduces feelings of perceived otherness
      • Decreases self-stigma and increases self-esteem and sense of empowerment over your mental health
  • Community-based mental health services: focuses on integrating mental health into primary care and community settings
    • Increases help-seeking behaviors
    • Makes mental health care more accessible 
    • Decreases feelings of intimidation in seeking mental health support
    • Reduces stigma and discrimination
    • Improves mental health outcomes
    • Normalizes accessing mental health care

Looking at the educational strategies showcases the importance of culturally sensitive approaches to care and recovery. Thus, at New Creation Recovery, we are committed to supporting gender-responsive care for women looking for rehabilitation centers near me. Through our women’s-only programming, you have access to support that addresses the specific experiences of women. We know women are particularly vulnerable to treatment barriers for bipolar disorder and mental health disorders in general due to gender-based stigma. 

Due to factors like gender roles and societal expectations, women often feel guilty and ashamed of mental health symptoms. The sense of shame and guilt over bipolar or other mental health symptoms can feed stigma and discrimination and impede help-seeking behaviors. Therefore, access to treatment tools like psychoeducational groups can support mental health literacy to dismantle gendered barriers to recovery. Furthermore, as a Christian-based drug rehab for women, we offer gender-specific houses where you can find the safety, comfort, support, and guidance you need to heal.

Unaddressed bipolar disorder can impede your ability to function and live a fulfilling life in long-term recovery. Moreover, gender-based stigma for bipolar disorder (BP) can manifest barriers to care for women. Without gender-responsive approaches to care, women are at risk of a variety of challenges that increase poor health outcomes. Women often experience complications with misdiagnosis and late diagnosis of BP, unaddressed hormonal changes, and different presentation of symptoms compared to men. However, with mental health literacy and gender-sensitive care, your specific needs and experiences can be supported to heal. Thus, at New Creation Recovery, we are committed to providing holistic and gender-specific educational strategies to support whole-person recovery. Call us at (877) 868-5730 to start healing today.