Mental Illness: A New Contributor to Gender Inequality

Mental Illness: A New Contributor to Gender Inequality

Boys and girls are different: from their bodies, to the way they experience puberty, to their brains – different. It isn’t just physically, either. Girls and boys are wired differently. Many issues will affect them universally, such as puberty, identity crises, or friend drama. But they way they experience mental illness may actually vary dramatically.

The World Health Organization has stated that mental health is a global crisis and will only continue to spread, especially as mental illness goes untreated. It is often ignored by patients and doctors alike, chalking it up to circumstances, sensitivity, or other factors. It may also go untreated due to gender differences.

Gender Differences in Mental Health

Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or insomnia than men. And this is nothing new! In centuries past this was actually perceived as “insanity” or “female hysteria,” meaning the patients were locked away without any real treatment. Today women are more likely to be prescribed antidepressants or mood-altering drugs, and they’re also more likely to report concerns about their mental health to their doctor.

Surprisingly, according to the World Health Organization, women are also the largest group affected by PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to sexual violence, of which they are most commonly subject. As the victims of domestic violence they also experience stress disorders far more often than their male counterparts. Unfortunately, it’s likely that many of these cases go undiagnosed as women are reluctant to disclose a history of abuse or victimization.

Men, on the other hand, are much more likely to seek treatment for alcoholism and antisocial disorders than are women. Inability to control anger or violence may also be indicators of mental illness in men, but are sometimes unlikely to be reported.

Mental Health in Teen Boys & Girls

Now, what does this look like for teenagers? Before puberty, boys and girls are at the same very low likelihood of being diagnosed with a mood disorder. But studies show that after puberty, girls are far more likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder. Often this can go unnoticed. It may be explained away by puberty, mood swings, or any other common teen ailments. Girls do mature faster, and their emotional wiring makes them biologically more sensitive to their feelings and perceptions. Sometimes it is just normal teen blues, but sometimes it’s actually depression, anxiety, or other mental illness.

Teen girls are more likely than boys to experience depression and anxiety, and they are far more likely to exhibit symptoms such as self-harm or eating disorders. Depressed teen boys are more likely to commit suicide, but girls have higher rates of attempted suicide. Because of these drastic and dangerous consequences, identification and intervention is absolutely key – especially with girls who may just seem “sensitive.”

Intervention

The most important factor, for teen girls especially, is to identify the problem early and to seek help. Begin by speaking openly with your daughter about her life, her feelings, her body image. Helping to cultivate a safe and welcoming environment is critical. Then if it appears the mental illness is serious – do not hesitate to find help. Enlist counseling or possibly a residential treatment boarding school to ensure that your troubled teen girl gets the professional help she needs before it’s too late.