Gender and Mental Health

March 11, 2021

When we think of the term “gender equality” we think about the political, societal, and socio-economic struggle for equity. Our conversations typically cover the topics of equal pay across professions and bodily autonomy. Because March is recognized as Gender Equality Month, we’d like to take a look at the idea of gender equality through a behavioral health lens.

Gender & Diagnosis

Overall, 24.5% of American women have reported experiencing mental illness in the past year, in comparison to 16% of men. When specifically looking at depression, 9% of women are diagnosed with depression compared to 5% of men. According to the American Anxiety and Depression Association, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder and are more likely to be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than men. 

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to suffer from impulse control disorders (29% compared to 22%,) substance abuse disorders (28% compared to 14%,) and are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.

Why Is This So?

There are many factors that can be attributed to higher mental illness statistics for women. Traditionally, women take on the responsibility of caring for their family’s health, as well as their own, and are more likely to assume caregiver roles for partners, parents, or children. These responsibilities require women to be more knowledgeable about mental health and making healthy choices on behalf of their families. The weight of managing and prioritizing others' health above their own often leads to their mental health complications. The socio-economic discrepancies in pay and higher poverty rates for women contribute to this as well.

However, women are more likely to be treated for mental illness than men, at 29% compared to 17%. The lack of treatment in men is contributed to underdiagnosis. Underdiagnosis in men is attributed to self-reporting of symptoms, or the reporting of more physical-related stress, rather than mental stressors. The stigma around men displaying and sharing emotional difficulties is also a great factor in the lack of reporting symptoms that lead to diagnosis and treatment. 

The Transgender Community

When looking at the transgender and non-binary communities, it has been found that trans people are four times as likely to experience mental health conditions than their cisgender individuals. This heightened statistic is greatly contributed to the discrimination and violence the community experiences. 

In the 2019 “Mental Health Diagnoses Among Transgender Patients in the Clinical Setting” study, it was found that transgender patients had increased prevalence for all psychiatric diagnoses, with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder being the most common. There was also an increased lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder in transgender adults. 

These statistics, however, do not track transgendered people’s mental health as they seek medical and surgical transition measures, which other retroactive studies suggest a positive increase in mental health. 

How Do We Find Equality?

Unfortunately, a lot of the work that needs to be accomplished to bring equality to diagnosing and treating mental illness for all genders greatly relies on societal shift. When we see more equality in shared household and familial responsibility, as well as address the stigma around emotional and mental vulnerability, then we should see a change in diagnosis and treatment. As our society continues to become more tolerant, and more advancements in treatment and support for transgender individuals are developed, we should see more equality for them as well. 

MABH Author

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