What role does gender play in mental health?

Sex and gender discrimination have been very prominent in mental health diagnoses, or rather misdiagnoses, of women all over the world for centuries. In the 1800s, hysteria was highly diagnosed in women, as having ovaries and a uterus was considered high risk for developing a nervous disorder. Influenced by these philosophies, even modern-day psychologists and psychiatrists are more likely to misdiagnose a woman for a disorder like anxiety while their ADHD remains untreated. ADHD can look a lot different in boys than it does in girls, and that can lead doctors to ignore females’ symptoms. For men, it is easier to identify symptoms of physical pain, but can be difficult to identify their emotional symptoms, so for the most part their mental health disorders go undiagnosed.

Women have been over-medicated, and mental health has been under-recognized. For all genders, many of us are forced to balance many difficult aspects of life, and then cope with a mental illness on top of it. For women, it is usually chalked up to stress, and they are prescribed some Ativan- women are prescribed “twice as many psychotropic drugs as men.” For men, if you were to even talk about it, you would be seen as weak, or unmasculine. The problem with prescribing medication to get rid of symptoms is that it does not get to the root of the problem, it only reinforces the idea that we should be surprising our emotions. It has become mainstream to suppress or hide negative emotions. For women, it is in an effort to appear “stable,” or not be labelled “crazy.” For men, it is so that they can appear “strong.”

1987 CMHA REPORT

In 1995, feminism had groundbreaking revolutions after “Women Look at Psychiatry: I’n Not Mad, I’m Angry,” was published. We began to look in depth at how inequality and discriminations were very present in mental health, and the Canadian Mental Health Association published a report encapsulating the worries and issues women face in mental health.

Here are some of the recommendations the report made. Read about that report here.

-Women’s mental health cannot be achieved until equity is reached among men and women.

-Women’s mental health must be considered within the context of her own life.

-Women’s mental health requires elimination of violence and discrimination.

-Including gender diversity in social programs and policies.

1987 CMHA REPORT

No one implemented these new regulations, not even the CMHA.

Modern Day Perspective

The national average of suicides is about 11 suicides per day.

Males are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.

Every Canadian is indirectly affected by mental illness.

By the time you reach the age of forty years old, fifty percent of the population will have directly lived with a mental illness.

Nearly twenty percent of women will suffer from a maternal mental illness that develops during pregnancy and up to a year after childbirth. A common maternal mental illness is postpartum depression. In recent findings, it has been discovered that new fathers are also susceptible to postpartum depression. For many of these parents, there is an immense social pressure to be a “good parent” and so for the majority, they will try to downplay or hide their emotions and symptoms, not only from others but also from themselves. This can be a very traumatizing experience.

There are still huge social pressures to act, and behave in a certain way, and if you don’t you’re labelled as “crazy” or “unstable.” It is especially hard when mental health is sometimes not taken seriously. During a depressive episode, only half of those who seek help will receive “potentially adequate care.” This could be because we don’t realize what’s happening, or we don’t understand the extent of what is happening, or maybe even we won’t even recognize what’s happening. As soon as an invisible disability because a problem, it is no longer tolerated or accepted in today’s society.

It is incredibly important, especially during these times to be reaching out to your friends, and family. In a recent survey conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, it found that men are less likely to seek help for their mental health.

What It Means

There is a dire need for an analysis on the effect of gender in mental health and a systemic change of these discriminations and ideologies. We fail to recognize the differences women and men experience in their mental health, and we continue to place restrictions on their needs.

Mental health is highly stigmatized for both males and females, and until there is systemic change, and discrimination is eradicated, mental health issues will only become more prominent for women. Until we have reached equality, those coping with mental illness will be stereotyped as weak for having a mental health disorder.

Mental health should not be something that renders people less than, or weak. It should also not be something that facilitates discrimination or enables hatred. My belief is that mental health should bring us together, and create a safe and inclusive space where our differences unite us, not separate us.

Read this article for more information.

How can I help?

  • Doing research on men’s and women’s mental health
  • Doing research on how to be gender inclusive in mental health
  • Talk about your feelings to someone you trust, don’t bottle them up
  • Support your friends, and try to empathize with them
  • Asking them directly how you can support
  • Actively listening
  • Don’t be judgmental, and be open
  • Helping them seek out resources

Resources