According to new research, women are 40 percent more likely than men to develop a mental disorder in their lifetimes. Some disorders are even more prevalent in women, while for others, the gap is smaller. Men are not totally off the hook; there are a few things that they suffer from at a greater rate than women. With this new evidence, psychologists and other researchers now want to know why the gender gap exists and what can be done about it.
The recent study comes from Oxford University and a clinical psychologist, Daniel Freeman. He looked at 12 epidemiological studies from the U.S., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Europe. These were large studies that looked at worldwide groups of people and included those that began in the 1990s. After analyzing the collected studies, Freeman concluded that women are 40 percent more likely to have a mental illness in general. More specifically, women are 75 percent more likely to struggle with depression, and nearly 60 percent more likely to have an anxiety disorder. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to have substance abuse problems.
Are Women Really More Troubled?
There are some potential problems with the new evidence for more mental illness in women. The first is that Freeman picked among the studies he wanted to analyze. A truly, gold-standard analysis of research on a topic should include all the information. This is called a meta-analysis and it means using every study available on the subject during a certain time period. Freeman only selected 12 to investigate, which means that he could have chosen those that agreed with his ideas, even if it was not a conscious decision. Another factor to consider is that the particular disorders from which women suffer the most, anxiety and depression, are the most common of all mental health disorders. This naturally bumps up the numbers for total women struggling with mental illness. There is also the fact that men who have depression or anxiety often hide their symptoms. Men are less likely to admit to having feelings that go along with these disorders. They cope differently, and ask for help less often than women. In other words, the numbers of men with depression or anxiety are likely underreported.
The Explanations and Consequences
Along with the new claims about the incidence of mental illness among women in the world, there are also attempts at explanations. One factor targeted by experts is environment. Regardless of gender, a person’s environment greatly influences his or her mental health. Women may be more likely to be in an environment that causes her to have a low sense of self-worth or low self-esteem. In general, women tend to view themselves in a more negative way than men, and this can have a great effect on mental health. Women and men also cope with stress and negative emotions in different ways. While women internalize, and often blame themselves, men make things external. Men are more likely to get angry and to put the blame on someone or something else. Men are also more likely to cope with negative feelings by using drugs or alcohol, which can help to explain the difference in substance abuse problems across genders. On the other hand, women less often admit to having substance abuse issues. Some experts prefer to look at why people in general, men and women, have more mental health issues today than ever before. Certain experts look to the differences in modern life compared to the high-stress, survivalist nature of life before today’s conveniences. In today’s high-stress environments, mental illness comes to the forefront. In societies that still revolve around daily survival, mental illness rates are much lower. Regardless of the reasons, the consequences of a gender gap in mental health are important from a public health perspective. Mental illnesses are common in both men and women throughout the world. As a result, any gap in occurrence has consequences for millions of people. To better prevent and treat mental illnesses, therapists, psychiatrists, and public policy makers need to understand that there are differences between the genders when it comes to mental illness.