Women Should Be Screened for Mental Illness With Gender-Specific Tool
Women’s Mental Health Picture
Women develop several types of diagnosable mental illness substantially more often than men, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports. For example, compared to men, women have a roughly 11 percent higher rate for the development of the range of conditions known collectively as anxiety disorders. Specifically, women develop the anxiety-related illness called panic disorder twice as often as men; they also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) more than twice as often as men. Other non-gender-specific mental health issues that appear substantially more often in women than in men include major depression (a 70 percent higher incident rate in women), an anxiety-related illness called specific phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. Conversely, men develop substance use disorder and certain other mental health problems more often than women.
Some forms of mental illness appear only in women, including premenstrual dysphoric disorder (a form of depression connected with a specific part of the menstrual cycle), postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis (two conditions that can appear in the aftermath of childbirth). Gender-specific hormone fluctuations and traditional social status largely account for women’s higher rates of certain mental illnesses also found in men. Gender-specific hormone fluctuations also help account for women’s exposure to mental health problems not found in men.
Mental Health Screening Tools
Screening tools are tests that doctors, other qualified professionals and (in some cases) laypeople can use to identify potential symptoms of diagnosable health problems. A range of such tools are available for the identification of possible mental illness or people at risk for developing a mental illness. For example, doctors and/or laypeople can check for symptoms of major depression and other forms of depressive illness with screening procedures called the Beck Depression Inventory and the Patient Health Questionnaire. Tools used to check for the presence of diagnosable substance problems (officially considered forms of mental illness) include the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and the CAGE Assessment. More generalized screening tools for mental health include the Patient Stress Questionnaire, the Kessler 6 Self-Report Measure, the Kessler 10 Self-Report Measure and the Healthy Living Questionnaire.
Testing a Gender-Specific Screening Tool
In the first phase of the study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, researchers from Canada’s University of British Columbia, Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University and two other Taiwanese institutions used information gathered from several small focus groups to develop a gender-specific tool for the assessment of women’s mental health called the Women’s Mental Health Scale. (This 50-question tool includes female-centered evaluations of four core aspects of mental well-being: social well-being, family well-being, relationship or interpersonal well-being and self-directed well-being.)
In the second phase of the study, the researchers used data collected from 106 women to test the logical sensibility and consistency of the Women’s Mental Health Scale. In the third phase of the study, they used data collected from another 163 young women enrolled in college to look at the gender-specific appropriateness of the new screening tool. In the fourth and final phase of the project, the researchers administered the Women’s Mental Health Scale to 357 young women and men enrolled in college and compared the results for the two genders.
After analyzing the information gathered over the course of the study, the researchers concluded that the Women’s Mental Health Scale produces consistent, logically sensible results. They also concluded that the new screening tool produces results that generally match up well with the results of the Beck Depression Inventory and another assessment called the Social Adjustment Scale Self-Report. Finally, the researchers concluded that the Women’s Mental Health Scale produces clearly different outcomes for men and women, particularly in measurements of social well-being and family-related well-being.
The study’s authors said further research will be needed to confirm or disprove these findings in larger groups of people.