GENEVA - The pressures of marriage and discrimination at work put women at a much greater risk of mental and nervous disorders than men, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.

And it called for enhanced mental health care services, especially at primary levels, to improve the mental health situation of women.

The global public health body said that around 1.4 billion people worldwide, mostly in developing countries, are affected at some time in their lives by some kind of neuropsychiatric illnesses, including mental, behavioral and substance abuse disorders.

In addition, mental illness is now responsible for 15 percent of the world's new cases of disease and injury.

Mental illness is also proving to have serious economic consequences. Surveys have found that in the United States, depression alone costs an average of about 44 billion U.S. dollars per year.

Studies show that in urban Bahia, eastern Brazil, mental disorders struck 21 percent of women, compared with only 8 percent of men. In Britain, women account for 55 percent people diagnosed as mentally ill.

The WHO also found that depression and anxiety are more prevalent among women, whereas among men, substance abuse disorders are more prevalent.

The organization reported an estimated 400 million people suffering from anxiety disorders and 340 million with mood disorders in the world, the majority of them being women.

Worldwide, for every 10 men suffering major depression, there are between 15 and 35 women in the same condition; and as regards chronic depression, the ratio is between 17 and 48 women to 10 men, the global public health body said.

There is growing evidence linking the higher rate of depression among women with marriage. Many housewives, having no other social roles for identity and self-esteem and facing constant routine, isolation and lack of income, are more vulnerable than men to depression.

The situation is even worse for women with children and without a stable partner or divorced. Studies show the risk increases 10 times for a woman without a stable partner who has three children under the age of 10.

According to the WHO, things are not much better for career women, who have to face economic discrimination and job inequality, as well as the combined pressures of conflicting home and work responsibilities.

Women with a stable partner and one or two children, who have a part-time income-generating job, seem to be less exposed to depression and anxiety disorders, said the WHO.

The organization also cited domestic violence as an important factor affecting women's mental health. It was found that up to 50 percent of women have been physically abused by their partners at some time in their lives.

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