Men and women have obvious physical differences, but a new study from the American Psychological Association explains how there are also gender differences in mental illness diagnoses. Researchers found that more women than men are diagnosed with mood and anxiety disorders, and more men than women are diagnosed with substance use disorders and antisocial personality.
The researchers used data collected in 2001 and 2002 through a National Institutes of Health survey. Further analysis explained in part why there are differences in mental disorder diagnoses.
“Women with anxiety disorders are more likely to internalize emotions, which typically results in withdrawal, loneliness and depression,” according to the press release. “Men, on the other hand, are more likely to externalize emotions, which leads to aggressive, impulsive, coercive and noncompliant behavior, according to the study. The researchers demonstrated that it was differences in these liabilities to internalize and to externalize that accounted for gender differences in prevalence rates of many mental disorders.”
The study states that these results can be used to develop more effective treatments that focus more on the issues with internalizing and externalizing emotions and recognize the overall differences in gender.
“Prevention efforts that focus on gender-linked core psychological processes are likely to be effective in impacting multiple disorders,” the study states. “In women, these preventative measures might focus, for instance, on coping and cognitive restructuring skills to reduce the likelihood of rumination and cognitive distortions developing into clinically significant depression or anxiety.”
Although the study intends to provide insight for more effective treatments, some mental health experts do see some possible concerns with the study as a result of thinking of some mental disorders as women’s versus men’s.
“I think we need to be careful not to say that depression and anxiety are ‘women's disorders,’” said Sheela Raja, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in an email.
Although Raja agrees with the general conclusions of the study, the idea of labeling some disorders as women’s disorders and others as men’s disorders might do the very opposite of helping people get proper treatment.
“It’s also true that substance abuse (diagnosed more frequently in men) often co-occurs with depression or anxiety disorders,” Raja said. “Labeling these issues as ‘men or women's issues’ might discourage people from getting treatment - thinking that it can't apply to them. A good mental health professional will look into the role of gender, ethnicity, social support network, and personality in helping clients to find a therapy that fits for them.”
Dr. Kim Dennis, a board certified psychiatrist and medical director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, said in an email that the study is relevant to psychiatry and directly applies to the center she works at because the center specifically focuses on treating women and girls.
“However, I do not think it is useful to think of any mental illness as a women's illness or a man's illness,” Dennis said. “This adds to stigma and might make it more difficult for certain people to ask for help. The mental illnesses, depression and anxiety, occur in men and women alike. For the individual it is important to be able to access good care, regardless of gender.”
Tamar Chansky, the director of the Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety in Philadelphia and the author of the upcoming book “Freeing Yourself From Anxiety: Four Simple Steps to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want,” said in an email that these findings are not revolutionary.
“There have been these long-standing differences in what are considered socially acceptable ways for men and women to handle their stress,” Chansky said. “Calling anxiety a women's disorder may not only downplay the seriousness of the condition and normalize suffering for women, but it could also continue to make it difficult for men to bring themselves for treatment."
American Psychological Association. Study Finds Sex Differences in Mental Illness. American Psychological Association. Web. August 30, 2011. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/08/mental-illness.aspx
Eaton N et al, “An Invariant Dimensional Liability Model of Gender Differences in Mental Disorder Prevalence: Evidence From a National Sample,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 2011; doi: 10.1037/a0024780. http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/abn-ofp-eaton.pdf
Raja, Sheela. Email interview. August 22, 2011.
Dennis, Kim. Email interview. August 22, 2011.
Chansky, Tamar. Email interview. August 23, 2011.
Reviewed August 31, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith