Gender is a critical determinant of mental health with certain disorders being more prevalent or specific to women and there are different protective factors.
There are various social and genetic factors that put women at greater risk of poor mental health than men; also, there are disorders specific to women which are influenced by hormonal factors. Although mental health problems are more common in women this is also influenced by women’s readiness to talk about their feelings and seek help compared to the stigma surrounding men seeking support.
Some statistics show these differences:
There are 2x more women who attempt suicide than men
Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are 3x more common in women than men
Women are 2x more likely than men to develop depression
Women are 2x more likely than men to suffer from anxiety disorders
Women are 2x more likely than men to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
It is hypothesised by researchers that there may be basic biological factors that are increasing the prevalence of mental health disorders in women such as hormones, genetics, and epigenetics. However, there are also social and cultural pressures that act as risk factors which is what I am going to focus on.
Patriarchal society and culture – this structure of society makes women feel like they have to work harder, for longer, and have more pressures to behave in certain ways and juggle multiple roles. For example, such things as economic and wage disparity and social status inequalities. This increases mental health problems for women because their stress levels and ability to cope in a society that is structured to be against them are negatively affected.
Race – women of colour are more likely to experience mental health problems due to racism and microaggressions in everyday life, but also less likely to seek psychological support because of stigma commonly seen in African cultures. Women of colour have a combination of race and gender discrimination in many spheres of life, including mental health.
Gender-based violence – experiences of violence and abuse are disproportionately affecting women and therefore the devastating effects of GBV can inflate certain disorder prevalence like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or post-traumatic stress for women.
Bias – doctors are more likely to diagnose mental health disorders in women and are more likely to prescribe mood-altering drugs to women. Although it can be seen as a positive thing that women are seeking and getting support, they are frequently diagnosed too quickly and sometimes incorrectly with common disorders such as depression and anxiety.
There are, of course, also risk factors and gender-specific pressures and disorders for men and other gender identifications. Whenever we are trying to further our understanding of psychology and these experiences, it is important to take various perspectives into account.
Finally, the disorders specific to women include Perinatal Depression, Postpartum Depression, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, Perimenopause-related Depression, Female Orgasmic Disorder, and Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder. These disorders highlight specific experiences of women which is useful in understanding previously ignored mental health struggles. However, there is some debate on the value of these DSM diagnoses because they create an idea that women are “crazy” when natural hormonal changes, like after pregnancy, or life events occur.
All these different biological, social, and cultural factors which make women more predisposed to certain disorders and mental health difficulties are important to understand in treatment and management. Mental health needs to be focused on and prioritised for all individuals of any gender; although there is also a belief that women are unique and deserve a unique mental health understanding.
“She was powerful not because she wasn’t scared and struggling but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear” – Atticus