Gender and Mental Health

Despite the degendering of America, biological gender continues to be an important factor in women’s psychological well-being. This data is taken from the World Health Organization’s report Gender and women’s mental health. The organization reports that:

Gender determines the differential power and control men and women have over the socioeconomic determinants of their mental health and lives, their social position, status and treatment in society and their susceptibility and exposure to specific mental health risks.

Unipolar depression, predicted to be the second leading cause of global disability burden by 2020, is twice as common in women.

Disability leads to increased absenteeism from work and loss of wages which drives many women into poverty and homelessness. This, in turn, further degrades women’s mental health and compounds the difficulties of escaping poverty.

Gender specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include gender based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and rank and unremitting responsibility for the care of others.

These facts are based on biological sex and do not cease to be true when gender is redefined.

The high prevalence of sexual violence to which women are exposed and the correspondingly high rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following such violence, renders women the largest single group of people affected by this disorder.

This statistic is highly underpublicized. Combat veterans are framed as the primary sufferers of PTSD and they are still predominantly viewed as male.

Gender bias occurs in the treatment of psychological disorders. Doctors are more likely to diagnose depression in women compared with men, even when they have similar scores on standardized measures of depression or present with identical symptoms.

During two hospitalizations, I was unable to convince my doctors I was suffering from PTSD. I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed medication.

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Female gender is a significant predictor of being prescribed mood altering psychotropic drugs.

Gender stereotypes regarding proneness to emotional problems in women and alcohol problems in men, appear to reinforce social stigma and constrain help seeking along stereotypical lines. They are a barrier to the accurate identification and treatment of psychological disorder.

I was deemed too “emotionally fragile” to leave the hospital after my 72-hour-hold was up and was not given access to a patient advocate until shortly before my release. I was not accurately diagnosed for months to come. Needless to say, I lost much of my faith in doctors and the mental health profession.

Violence related mental health problems are also poorly identified. Women are reluctant to disclose a history of violent victimization unless physicians ask about it directly.

It’s easier and preferable for many victims of abuse to conceal what’s happening. When doctors asked me if my partner ever hurt me, I rationalized that the truth was “no” because they were asking about physical violence. No matter that he had a self-confessed history of driving his partners to suicide. If my doctors had asked, “Have you ever felt frightened of your partner?” I might have said “yes.” 

Research shows that there are 3 main factors which are highly protective against the development of mental problems especially depression. These are:

  • having sufficient autonomy to exercise some control in response to severe events.
  • access to some material resources that allow the possibility of making choices in the face of severe events.
  • psychological support from family, friends, or health providers is powerfully protective.

These protective factors are in direct opposition to the most significant challenges women face. As second-class citizens, we still encounter immense barriers to autonomy, not the least of which are birth control and the right to terminate a pregnancy. We are still paid less for the same work as our male counterparts and represent the bulk of people living in poverty. We also continue to be consistently undermined, neglected, ignored and degraded throughout our lifetimes, causing significant economic, emotional, and psychological distress.

The degendering of America will not solve these problems, only make them harder to pin down and describe. Men who identify as women are still biologically men and do not figure into statistics representing females. Sex is integral to the discussion of oppression. Female oppression does not cease to exist when we identify as gender-neutral, non-binary, or gender-queer. Despite the recent “availability” of more genders, women will continue to be oppressed for being women.

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