Various studies have shown how gender differences can influence the development of specific mental health disorders in men and women.
Some might be surprised to learn that although many men and women suffer mental health issues at some stage, specific factors may affect how each gender experiences mental illness.
This article explores the biological and emotional differences in mental health between men and women and how these factors can influence health outcomes in both genders.
Key discussion areas in this article include:
- The differences in mental health disorders between women and men.
- How social factors may influence women’s mental health.
- The underlying causes behind the gender gap in mental health.
Common mental health disorders experienced by women and men
Many studies have illustrated significant differences between mental illnesses in men and women. These differences may exist, in part, because of how each gender is expected to assume specific roles in society.
For example, assuming that men are more power-seeking and women are more submissive can lead to misconceptions about gender roles. In addition, these socially constructed roles and responsibilities may contribute to the type of mental health challenges experienced by men and women.
Studies show that adolescent girls are more likely to develop mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders and suicidal ideation than boys. (News Medical Life Sciences, The Gender Gap in Mental Health. reviewed by Sophia Coveney).
On the other hand, teenage boys have a higher prevalence of anger and aggression than girls and are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Young adult males are also more likely to die by suicide than teenage girls. (News Medical Life Sciences, The Gender Gap in Mental Health. reviewed by Sophia Coveney).
The differences in mental health disorders between women and men
Research indicates that women are three times more likely to experience common mental health issues than men. (Men and women: statistics, Mental Health Foundation). Some of the most common mental health disorders experienced by women include the following:
- Anxiety – Studies show that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders than men. However, women are also more likely to seek professional help for an anxiety disorder than their male counterparts, which could explain the higher diagnosis rates in females.
- Eating disorders – The literature on eating disorders shows that women are up to three times more likely to experience eating disorders than men. Eating disorders involve a preoccupation with one’s food intake, body weight and physical appearance. In addition, eating disorders often co-occur with other mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Some risk factors and causes of eating disorders include a lack of confidence, issues with self-image and societal pressures to look a certain way.
- Depression – Several studies have documented significant differences in depression rates between genders, with women being more prone to depression than men. According to an article by Verywell mind, this risk exists independent of ethnicity or race. (Why Depression Is More Common in Women Than in Men, Verywell mind, Nancy Schimelpfening, December 24, 2020). Additional risk factors for depression in women include hormone changes, adopting specific social roles and responsibilities, coping styles, and domestic violence.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – PTSD is a mental health disorder brought on by a traumatic event or experience. The condition is very often linked to war or combat violence. However, PTSD can affect anyone who may have been exposed to trauma. Data from the Mental Health Foundation reports that women are three times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder than men. Some risk factors for higher occurrences of PTSD in women include sexual abuse and domestic violence. In addition, further data shows that women are likely to experience more severe PTSD symptoms than men.
How social factors may influence women’s mental health
Unfortunately, gender stereotypes have long existed, affecting how women and men are treated in society, including the workplace, home, and broader communities.
In addition, social media has been shown to impact women’s mental health, putting significant pressure on them to look and act a certain way.
Many studies have shown social media’s profound impact on teenage girls alone.
For example, one study showed that 90% of young girls admitted to being unhappy with their bodies due to unrealistic social media expectations about how young women should dress and look.
Another study showed that Facebook users experience more body-image concerns than those not using the platform.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Gender stereotypes have found their way into mental health care, impacting how healthcare professionals conceptualize and treat women and men with mental health issues.
Mental health services
Worryingly, men are less likely than women to use healthcare services when experiencing mental health concerns.
This is not due to a lack of need but more likely because of the antiquated stereotype that men are the stronger sex and therefore do not need professional help.
Internalizing and externalizing disorders
Another factor in men’s and women’s mental health is that women are more prone to developing internalizing disorders, while externalizing disorders are more prevalent among men.
Those with internalizing disorders tend to keep their concerns or worries to themselves. Thus they internalize their problems.
Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and social isolation are all classified as internalizing behaviors; a person may suppress or dismiss their feelings and emotions, leading to sadness, suicidal behaviors and somatic symptoms.
Externalizing disorders involve maladjusted behaviors or actions that can impair or disrupt a person’s overall functioning.
Unlike those who internalize or hide their emotions, individuals who engage in externalizing behaviors manifest their feelings and cognitions outwards, which may present as aggressive behavior or acts of violence.
Externalizing disorders are often referred to as conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), to name just a few.
Gender stereotypes may play a role in many mental health issues experienced by women and men, including the ones above, where men are expected to be more ‘macho’ and aggressive.
In contrast, women are expected to hide their emotions despite suffering internally.
Other factors that may influence women’s mental health include the following:
Specific biological and genetic factors may explain some of the differences in mental health between the genders.
According to research, women have higher rates of depression and anxiety in adulthood than men. On the other hand, men are more likely to experience antisocial disorders and substance addiction in later life than women.
Some researchers noted that hormonal changes might influence depression rates in women; for instance, one study showed that women experienced increased psychological distress due to reproductive health issues.
Other studies show a strong link between a women’s menstrual cycle and severe mood swings, suggesting that hormonal changes may be responsible for fluctuations in emotion and mood in women.
Changing hormone levels during perimenopause (the transition stage leading up to periods stopping) and menopause (defined as having gone a year without a period) have also been shown to cause heightened mood swings, depression and anxiety. One study revealed that women are two to four times more likely to experience a major depressive episode during menopause than at any other time in their lives.
Hormone changes during the perimenopause and menopause can also exacerbate existing mental health issues, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Other biological factors
Other biological risk factors for depression in women may include:
- Prenatal and postnatal depression
- Infertility problems
- Bladder control issues. Researchers have found that bladder problems are more common in older females than men of a similar age, leading to increased depression in women.
The underlying causes behind the gender gap in mental health
No matter how we sugarcoat it, there are significant differences in how men and women are treated regarding their mental health.
Various reasons for the gender gap in mental health exist, including cultural expectations and norms.
A review by News Medical Life Sciences explained how gender differences do not reside in the individual but are actively (re)produced in social interactions, meaning that cultural ideas of masculinity and femininity are more responsible for how men and women think, act and behave than role identities or psychological qualities. (News Medical Life Sciences, The Gender Gap in Mental Health, reviewed by Sophia Coveney).
In addition, there may be some disparities between how medical providers communicate with women and men.
For example, gender bias may influence the relationship between doctor and patient, where someone may make unconscious assumptions about an individual or group.
This may lead to changes in how physicians treat their patients, particularly in cases where implicit gender bias is a present factor.
As mentioned, many men do not use as many mental health services as women despite needing these resources – this is likely due to fear of being judged, ridiculed or thought of as weak by those in the healthcare profession and broader society.
On the other hand, women who turn to mental health services for treatment may fear being labeled as attention-seeking, overly emotional or, depending on their condition, time-wasters, leading to a lack of appropriate care.
Perhaps the key to understanding how mental health affects men and women differently may not lie in the absence of mental illness between the genders but in how and why these conditions present and the challenges that men and women face around seeking treatment or not, as the case may be.
Mental health treatment at Tikvah Lake Recovery
Tikvah Lake Recovery provides personalized treatment for those with substance use disorder, behavioral addictions and various mental health issues.
Our experienced team of professionals fully understand the complex process of addiction and mental health disorders. We diagnose and provide treatment and support for those with various underlying mental health issues, often at the core of substance use disorders such as alcohol or drug abuse.
In addition, we offer tailored, individualized treatment to clients seeking help and support for various mental health disorders, treating the ‘whole’ person, not just their symptoms.
Our staff use various treatment approaches and methods, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based model commonly used to treat severe mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and substance use disorders.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues, contact an admissions counselor at Tikvah Lake Recovery for further advice and support.
We are here and ready to help!
- News Medical Life Sciences, The Gender Gap in Mental Health (reviewed by Sophia Coveney).
- Men and women: statistics. Mental Health Foundation
- Why Depression Is More Common in Women Than in Men, Nancy Schimelpfening. Verywell mind, December 24, 2020