Mental Illness exposes gender differences

By Emily Fasold

Gender equality may have come a long way in the past century, but a recent study from the University of Minnesota suggests that men and women still stand on different planes in terms of mental illness.

The study, published in the “Journal of Abnormal Psychology,” examined the gender statistics of several common mental illnesses and found that women are more likely to have depression and anxiety, while men are more prone to antisocial behavior and substance abuse.

Specifically, 17.4 percent of men had a history of alcohol dependence, compared to 8 percent of women. In contrast, almost 23 percent of women, versus 13 percent of men, had been diagnosed with depression during their lifetimes.

Nicholas Eaton, the study’s lead author, said the difference may lie in how the sexes cope with their emotions. Women tend to blame themselves for negative feelings, which leads to depression, and men are more likely to use violence or alcohol to ignore them.

Eaton attributes this to a combination of social and biological factors. For example,he said women may be more conditioned to show depressive symptoms because it is more culturally acceptable for them to show emotion than men.

Although specific brain differences between the sexes are still unclear, Eaton said that biology definitely plays a role.

“Even as society has changed over the last 40 years, we continue to see gender differences in mental disorders,” he said. “This suggests that there is probably something fundamentally different [between men and women].”

Researchers studied data from more than 43,000 adult participants in the 2001–2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. The ratios of different races, genders and age groups were parallel to the U.S. population as a whole.

The study also found that men and women with mental illnesses are equally likely to develop additional ones. Katherine Keyes, a co-author of the study, thinks this similarity is key to understanding and treating mental illness.

“This shows us that there’s something universal in the structure of mental illness,” Keyes said. “It gives us clues as to how we can diagnose and treat unique individuals.”

Researchers concluded that gender-focused treatment may be an effective method of treating mental illnesses. For instance, the study stated that effective therapy for women might focus on coping skills and positive thinking, and men might respond better to positive outlets and rewards for thought-out behavior.

Eaton said the roles social and biological factors play in mental illness across genders are still open to question, but it is important to keep researching.

“[The gender difference in] mental illness is a complex interaction, and it’s very difficult to piece apart, but we’re moving in that direction,” Eaton said.