Women and men are physiologically different creatures. Our bodies metabolize medication differently. And research has shown heart attacks kill more women than men.
So it is no surprise women and men are diagnosed with the same mental illnesses at different rates. But this difference may be more sociological than physiological.
More women are diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and men with alcoholism and antisocial personality disorder.
Our gender influences what we tend to share in the exam room, which affects the care we receive. A woman is more likely to share feelings of despair, while a man is more likely to mention he has trouble controlling his drinking.(1)
Gender bias exists in both diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric illness. Women are more likely to seek help from their primary care physicians, and those same physicians are more likely to diagnose women than men with depression, even when both genders present with the same symptoms.(1)
Being female is a reliable predictor that you will be prescribed mood-altering psychiatric drugs. The World Health Organization has called for gender awareness training to help physicians confront gender stereotypes and promote more accurate diagnosis of mental health conditions. (2)
Social factors like poverty and sex discrimination(3) influence women's risk of developing mental illness.(1) Worldwide, 70 percent of the world’s poor are women, and socio-economic disadvantage places women at a higher risk of depression and anxiety, as does discrimination. (3)
Similarly, the global epidemic of violence against women impacts women's wellbeing. Women sexually abused in childhood have a 3-4 times higher risk of adult depression. One in three female rape victims will develop PTSD compared to 1 in 20 women who have not been raped.(3) Exacerbating these risk factors is the reluctance of women to disclose physical or sexual abuse to their doctors. (1)
According to the WHO, “Traditional gender roles further increase susceptibility by stressing passivity, submission and dependence and impose a duty to take on the unremitting care of others and unpaid domestic and agricultural labour.”(3)
As women’s rank in society improves, there is a consequent improvement in women’s health. However, despite gains in equality in the United States and other western countries, women who work full time are still folding more laundry and washing more dishes at home than their male counterparts. The ongoing unequal distribution of working women’s household responsibilities increases women’s stress levels, thereby making them more susceptible to mental illness.(5)
Reviewed April 25, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith