I’ve just completed a week of delivering workshops to organisations in an effort to help raise awareness for RUOK? day. One of the most popular topics related to demystifying mental health issues.
Something that tends to surprise many workshop participants is the alarming difference between rates of depression and anxiety in men and women. In Australia, on average, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men will experience depression at some stage of their lives; and 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety (BeyondBlue).
Why is this?
Well I was fortunate enough to attend the Utopia Women’s Wellness event in Sydney on Saturday, which showcased a variety of holistic wellness presenters and topics. One of the presentations I attended was delivered by Delia McCabe, a Nutritional Neuroscience Researcher who commenced her career as a Psychology student, on how food can stress-proof the female brain.
Delia presented some fascinating structural and neurochemical differences between the male and female brain, and attributed this as a causal factor for women experiencing almost twice the rate of anxiety and depression than men. Below are some of the key differences she raised.
Structure of the Brain
Women have greater activity in 70 out of 80 areas of their brain compared to men! Key differences in women:
- more empathy (consequence of this is we tend to place ourselves at the end of the line for self-care)
- more intuition (consequence is we can base many decisions on a gut feeling and not consider relevant facts)
- collaborate better (consequence is that we can dismiss our own desires for the benefit of the group)
- more self-control (our pre-frontal cortex works better than in men: consequence of this is that sometimes we can be overly controlling)
- more worry (downside is we may experience anxiety too often)
Interestingly, these structural brain differences is where the myth of women being able to multi-task comes from!
Neurochemistry of the Brain
There are notable differences between male and female neurons responding to stress. Female neurons have more places for the stress response to be elicited, which means that stress receptors are on alert for the majority of the time in women.
Furthermore, the female brain produces 52% less serotonin than men, so women find it more difficult to feel soothed, safe, and secure. So next time a male tells you to “relax”, you can highlight this percentage to explain how difficult it is!
Delia emphasised the importance of eating the right types and quantities of fats, and shared that 95% of people are not getting enough omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in their diets. Working on what you eat is only one part of the solution, because according to Delia, “you are not what you what you are what you absorb”. Mental health begins in the gut, and it is imperative to ensure your gut is able to absorb nutrients to supply the brain with its requirements.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this!