Stigma, Gender Differences, and Mental Health

Every year 1 in 5 American adults will experience a mental health condition (Mental Health Conditions, n.d). Additionally, approximately 30-50% of individuals experience a mental disorder diagnosis in their lifetime (Mackenzie, Gekoski, & Knox, 2006).

A mental health diagnosis can permeate every aspect of a person’s life. It can impact their daily living skills along with their cognitive and emotional coping abilities. Alongside the personal impact of mental health conditions people with mental health diagnoses must often face a strong negative stigma (Drapeau, Boyer, & Lesage, 2009). The stigma associated with mental illness in it of itself can prevent people from seeking help when they need it most (Mental Health Conditions, n.d).

This stigma of a mental health diagnosis can affect the person suffering from the mental health condition by influencing:

  • WHO they tell
  • WHEN they tell
  • IF they tell

Gender Roles and Mental Health
Research indicates that more women seek out mental health services than men (Mackenzie et al., 2006). This is not entirely surprising, as it tends to be more acceptable for women to display emotions ask for help. Men, on the other hand, are expected to deny their vulnerabilities, to be independent, and in control of their emotions.

These specific gender roles seep into the overall perception of how to handle mental health within our culture. Thus, practitioners are less likely to diagnose a man with depression than a woman, even if their presenting symptoms are similar (Pattyn, Verhaeghe, & Bracke, 2015). Research finds that men attribute more shame and blame with mental illness than women; resulting in men being more likely to approach their mental illness through self-care methods (Pattyn et al., 2015).

The stigma associated with men asking for help seems to strongly dissuade men from seeking mental health services and resources.

Stress Responses Based on Gender
Men and women experience a variety of stressful life situations that can contribute to their mental health status. Although men and women do share common stressful situations such as the work place they tend to experience it differently.

In a study by Pattyn and colleagues (2015), the team found that at work, women experience more organizational stress and men experience more stress concerning pollution and draughts. Further, women reported overall less ability to utilize their full skills at work, maintain autonomy, and address their workplace complaints, which creates a less satisfying workplace experience (Pattyn et al., 2015).

Additionally, women face a variety of specific stress inducing issues (Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, n.d; World Health Organization, 2002):

  • Reproductive conditions and problems
  • Gender based violence (domestic violence, sexual abuse)
  • Poverty
  • Social status
  • Compensation discrepancies in the workplace

Although men experience some of the above issues, these experiences have the potential to significantly impact women’s mental health. Not surprisingly, the way in which women experience stress and these unique stressors contribute to their comparatively higher pursuance of mental health services.

Why is this relevant?
There are a variety of reasons that women tend to seek out mental health services more often than men, including gender role expectations and the different stressors than men and women experience. It is important to note that it has been found that when stress exposure becomes very large gender differences disappear (Pattyn et al., 2015).

Mental Health Gender Differences:

  • Women (10.4%) are twice as likely as men (5.5%) to be diagnosed with depression (Brody, 2018).
  • Women are twice as likely as men to experience generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder (Richards, M. & Van Niel, M. S., 2017)
  • Women attempt suicide more often than men, but men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide (Richards, M. & Van Niel, M. S., 2017)

How do we address this?
In order to improve outcomes for those with mental health conditions, early engagement and support are vital (Mental Health Conditions, n.d). Therefore, it is pertinent for mental health practitioners and the overall community to be properly educated on how to engage with and support the people who are affected by mental illness.

The mental health field should enact gender-tailored approaches to mental health for both men and women. A gender-tailored approach would focus on the recognition of gender specific signs and symptoms of a condition. Specifically, practitioners would utilize specific skill sets to address gender-specific stress.

As social workers we have the opportunity to address the conversation with the general public. Social workers can work with the community to provide education on the common symptoms and signs exhibited by men and women of mental health conditions. Hopefully a change in practitioners’ approaches and community education would destigmatize mental illness in order to better promote accessible and competent services for all.

Mental illness is something we cannot afford to be silent about if we want to promote real change and growth in the mental health field and broader society. As social workers it is necessary for us to educate ourselves and others on the discrepancies when it comes to understanding the gender differences of mental health issues for the sake of breaking down barriers that prevent people from receiving necessary care.

 

References

Brody, D. J. (2018). Prevalence of Depression Among Adults Aged 20 and Over: United States, 2013–2016. (303), 8.

Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. (n.d.). Gender Disparities in Mental Health. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from World Health Organization website:https://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/242.pdf?ua=1

Drapeau, A., Boyer, R., & Lesage, A. (2009). The Influence of Social Anchorage on the Gender Difference in the Use of Mental Health Services. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 36(3), 372–384. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11414-009-9168-0

Mackenzie, C. S., Gekoski, W. L., & Knox, V. J. (2006). Age, gender, and the underutilization of mental health services: The influence of help-seeking attitudes. Aging & Mental Health, 10(6), 574–582. https://doi.org/10.1080/13607860600641200

Mental Health Conditions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions

Pattyn, E., Verhaeghe, M., & Bracke, P. (2015). The gender gap in mental health service use. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 50(7), 1089–1095. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-015-1038-x

Richards, M., & Van Niel, M. S.. (2017). Mental Health Disparities: Women’s Mental Health. American Psychiatric Association.

Sandanger, I., Nygrd, J. F., Srensen, T., & Moum, T. (2004). Is women’s mental health more susceptible than men’s to the influence of surrounding stress? Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 39(3), 177–184. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-004-0728-6

World Health Organization. (2002). Gender and Mental Health. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from World Health Organization website: https://www.who.int/gender/other_health/genderMH.pdf

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