There is an increasing recognition that gender is an important indicator of health differences, influencing how a person experiences mental health problem. However, the field of mental health has largely operated on a gender-neutral premise, assuming that women and men’s development and experience of mental illness over their life span are universal.
What Is the Difference between and Sex and Gender?
Sex refers to the physical difference between people. An individual typically has their sex assigned at birth according to physiological characteristics such as chromosome make up and genitalia. Gender refers to how a person identifies. An individual may identify with a gender, or none, that is different from their sex assigned at birth. Gender also manifests as social norms, constructed by a culture or society to prescribe how social roles, behaviors and attributes are considered appropriate to women and men.
Gender Differences in Mental Health Disorders
Research has shown that single men have higher admission rates to mental health facilities than women in the same marital status categories. However, married women have higher admission rates than married men.
Moreover, studies have demonstrated gender differences in the rates of various disorders. Women are twice as likely to suffer from a mental illness. In that regard, women are more at risk of reporting depression and anxiety while men have higher rates of substance use disorders and antisocial personality disorders. Since gender intersects with gender-based expectations, women typically report greater mental health strain from stressful life events associated with caregiving and reproduction. To that end, the prevalence of depression among pregnant women ranges from 7% to 26%, and between 10-15% of mothers experience postpartum depression in the first year after childbirth. Postpartum depression has adverse impact on women’s relationships, daily functioning, work performance, and ability to care for the infant.
Why Is Gender-Informed Mental Health Care Important?
Gender differences clearly exist in the realm of mental health. A gender-sensitive approach to mental health problems is, hence, necessary. It ensures that the clinician accurately examines the epidemiology of mental health problems and makes appropriate diagnosis and treatment decisions based on an understanding of how gender affects a person’s development and experience of a mental illness, as well as response to treatment.
To illustrate, a gender-informed treatment for a woman client is one whereby the provider examines the woman’s symptomatology and mental illness in the context of the woman’s race, sexual orientation, marital status, childcare related stress if any, cultural expectations, reproductive stress, socioeconomic status, support system, strengths, and resilience. In taking such a comprehensive and gender-sensitive approach, the clinician is more equipped to make appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan. Conversely, when overlooking gender and its role in the client’s experience, one is at risk of pathologizing the woman’s lower social status and response to gender inequities (i.e., psychological symptoms).
Connect with a therapist who’s specialized in women’s mental health today.