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The insane woman-mental disorders and female life history-a Darwinian approach

Author(s): Sylvia Kirchengast

Gender based differences in the prevalence rate of mental disorders are described since ancient times. In particular a strong association between female reproductive events such as sexual maturity, pregnancy, postpartum period or menopause and mental illness was described and mainly used to describe the female sex as the weak and emotionally instable one. In this review mental disorders associated with specific stages of female life history are analyzed and interpreted from the viewpoint of evolutionary medicine. In particular the association between female adolescence and eating disorders, reproductive phase and postpartum depression and depression during post menopause are focused on using an evolutionary approach. From that viewpoint mental disorders associated with female life history events seem to be adaptive to some degree, but mental disorders may also be interpreted as a result of the mismatch between recent life circumstances and the environment in which our ancestors evolved.

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