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Gender and Mental Health Assignment No. 1 Dermot Connolly Stenberg College SOCI 201-3 D.McCreedy July 2013

GENDER AND MENTAL HEALTH ASSIGNMENT NO 1 Abstract This paper explores the apparent gender disparity in the diagnosis of mental illness and in

particular explores why certain sexes appear to be more predisposed than others to certain mental conditions. The over-representation of women in mental health is first explored concentrating on their tendency to internalize environmental stressors which results in higher incidences of depression and anxiety. As women tend to live longer than men, the implications of aging and mental illness among the sexes is also explored. In contrast to womens mental health, the male tendency to externalize their stressors through substance abuse and violence is also recognized. In addition this paper also examines some of the lesser known mental illnesses afflicting the male population and explores the link between emotional expression and male mental illness. Finally, the role of society in gender mental illness is also investigated. Womens traditional roles as homemakers and caregivers have resulted in many suffering additional environmental stressors and spousal abuse. Such abuse underpins the role of the women in society and exacerbates the incidences of mental illnesses in women.

Keywords: gender, mental illness, internal and external stressors.

GENDER AND MENTAL HEALTH ASSIGNMENT NO 1 Gender and Mental Health The disparity between men and women in the diagnoses of mental illness is well documented. Many of these differences can be attributed to the socially constructed variations between the sexes in todays society. (WHO 2002). Other explanations concentrate on the success of the womens movement in highlighting the plight of women suffering from mental illnesses. (Rogers & Pilgrim 2008). Whatever the reason, greater emphasis is now being given to gender related risk factors

commonly associated with a mental health problem. (WHO 2002). To date, much of the research on gender mental illness concentrates on its affect on women. Less understood, is the impact mental illness plays on the male population. (Rogers & Pilgrim 2008). The purpose of this paper is to explore this gender disparity in greater detail, concentrating first on the overrepresentation of women in mental illness before analyzing and challenging some of the more commonly held beliefs about male mental illness. Finally, the role played by society in the onset and progression of gender associated mental illness is also explored. While gender specific statistics vary depending on the service organization being analyzed, all findings indicate that in general women receive more psychiatric diagnosis than men. (Rogers & Pilgrim 2008). While over representation of women across certain psychiatric illnesses are inevitable such as postpartum depression, gender alone does not explain the overwhelming bias towards other conditions in western society such as anxiety, anorexia or depression. (Rogers & Pilgrim 2008).


Some of the socioeconomic conditions behind this gender bias will be discussed later but it is interesting to note that the origin of some of these conditions can start very early in life. In adolescence, for example, women have a higher prevalence towards depression and anorexia when compared to men. (WHO 2002). As women age, this disparity does not change with higher levels of depression and anxiety also reported among adult women. (WHO 2002). Such findings are validated in studies carried out on gender discrepancies into the emotional response to disability. Analysis into depression for example, has shown that while disability alone may not cause depression, gender has been proven to be a risk factor in its development. (Niemeier 2008). In fact, when compared to men, disabled women are more likely to report symptoms of grief and twice as likely to be depressed as a result of their condition. (Niemeier 2008). As women are statistically more likely to life longer that men, the prevalence of age related mental disorders are also more likely to be present. Such findings have been confirmed by the World Health Organization when their assessment of age related mental illness showed a definite gender bias across all countries. (Rogers & Pilgrim 2008). Whenever the topic of male mental illness is considered, we typically associate it with incidences of substance abuse, violence or sexual assault towards women while ignoring the testimonies of its male victims. (Rogers & Pilgrim 2008). While the higher rates of male violence towards women cannot be ignored, this association has resulted in the unfair stereotyping of many male psychiatric illnesses. (Rogers & Pilgrim 2008). Looking at these instances of violence and substance abuse in greater detail and we can see distinctive trends starting to emerge. While certain psychiatric illnesses are more commonly

GENDER AND MENTAL HEALTH ASSIGNMENT NO 1 associated with women, others are more prevalent in men. Whereas women have a tendency to internalize their emotions, men take their frustrations out on their external environment. (Eaton 2011). What results is a tendency for men to engage in antisocial behavior, violence and

substance abuse. (Eaton 2011). Such a response only concentrates the already extensive research into male addictions and its association with domestic violence. It is not surprising then, that other male psychiatric illnesses outside of substance abuse and violence are very often ignored. One such example is the reported incidences of male postpartum depression; a disorder traditionally associated with women which, is only now being recognized as a disorder that also affects the male population. The importance of male postpartum depression was highlighted in 2010 when an analysis into 43 postpartum studies concluded that 10% of men suffered from the disorder within the first 3-6 months after the birth of their child. (Paulson & Bazemore 2010). Yet little is known about the implications of postpartum depression on the male population. Research suggests that this is primarily due to the difficulties many men have with emotional expression, preferring instead, to take their emotions out on their external environment. (Canadian Mental Health Association 2007). So why then is there such an apparent gender discrepancy toward mental illness and what role (if any) does society play? Attempts to explain this link have centered on the level of stress imposed on an individual and their ability to manage that stress successfully. (Rogers & Pilgrim 2008). A persons socioeconomic conditions also plays a part. In studies conducted in India for example, it has being shown that married men suffering from schizophrenia were more likely to be financially supported and cared for by their wives. On the other hand, married women were more likely to be abandoned or abused by their husbands which added to their levels of anxiety. (WHO 2002).

GENDER AND MENTAL HEALTH ASSIGNMENT NO 1 In addition, the tendency for males to externalize their emotions adds to the stressors placed on their spouses. Substance abuse frequently turns to violence resulting in women

suffering from severe depression, low self esteem and increased risk of suicide. (Tilley, Rugari & Walker n.d). Attempts to explain this male response to mental illness have focused on the social stressors imparted on them. Such stresses include childhood exposure to violence and a previous dependency on alcohol and other substances. (Tilley, Rugari & Walker n.d). Other studies into the role of society on gender based mental health indicate that in developed countries, many women have an advantage over their male counterparts. As residential independence is more established among women, greater success is witnessed among women who participate in psychiatric rehabilitation programs. (WHO 2002). Whatever the reasons for gender specific mental illness, researchers can all agree that gender alone is an important risk factor in the onset and development of mental illness. To date research has concentrated on the ability of men and women to cope with the stresses in their lives. Central to this research is the communication and internalization of emotions from women and the externalization and withdrawal commonly seen among men. The role of our socioeconomic environment is also an important factor in the contribution of many gender specific mental illnesses, where our gender, social status and culture all contribute to the increased risk to our mental wellbeing. .

GENDER AND MENTAL HEALTH ASSIGNMENT NO 1 References: Canadian Mental Health Association (2007). Men and mental illness. Retrieved from: Eaton, N., R. (2011). Study finds sex differences in mental illness. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: Niemeier, J., P. (2008). Unique aspects of womens emotional responses to disability. Disability and rehabilitation. 30, 3. 166-173. Retrieved from: Paulson, J. & Bazemore, S., D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression. The Journal of the American medical Association. 303,19. 1961-1969. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.605. Retrieved from: Rogers, A. & Pilgrim, D. (2008). A sociology of mental health and illness. (3rd Ed). Open University Press - McGraw Hill

Tilley, D., S., Rugari, S., M. & Walker, C., A. (n.d). Development of violence in men who batter intimate partners: A case study. The Journal of Theory Construction & Testing. 12,1. 2833. Retrieved from:

GENDER AND MENTAL HEALTH ASSIGNMENT NO 1 WHO (2002). Gender and mental health. Retrieved from: