Mental disorders and gender

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Gender is correlated with the prevalence of certain mental disorders, including[1] depression, anxiety and somatic complaints.[1] Major depression is twice as common in women.[1] The lifetime prevalence rate of alcohol dependence is more than twice as high in men, and men are more than three times as likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.[1] There are no marked gender differences in the diagnosis rates of serious psychological disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.[1]

Sigmund Freud postulated that women were more prone to neurosis because they experienced aggression towards the self, which stemmed from developmental issues. Freud's postulation is countered by the idea that societal factors may play a major role in the development of mental illness. Industrialization accentuated differing gender roles, and women functioned mostly in the private sphere and men in the public sphere. These gender role differences may have impacted the types of mental illness that occurred most often in each gender. Other factors that contribute to the gender divide in mental illness include the pressure on men not to show their emotions and the fact that women, on average, have lower self-esteem and sense of control than men. When certain factors, such as work outside the domestic sphere, are controlled, women and men tend to experience a full range of mental illnesses at approximately equal rates. In some cases when such factors were controlled, women showed lower rates of mental illness on the whole.[2]

The object relations theory postulates that because women are mostly responsible for parenting, mothers emphasize the importance of relationships to their daughters while pushing their sons into independence. Sarah Rosenfield uses this theory to argue that males and females develop different types of symptoms when they are mentally ill. Men tend to display externalized symptoms, expressing problematic emotions in outward behavior. Women tend to develop internalized symptoms, where problematic feelings are directed towards the self. In accordance with the internalized-externalized dichotomy, women are more commonly diagnosed with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and phobias. Once thought to be more common in women, borderline personality disorder has been found to be equally prevalent among both men and women.[3] Men more commonly experience substance abuse, antisocial disorders, and violence.[2] Both men and women are more likely to be institutionalized if their diagnosis is not typical of their gender (Martha Lang, 2006).

In another study, researchers observed the occurrence by gender of different types of common mental illnesses. The researchers found that women with anxiety disorders are more likely to suppress emotions, which characteristically results in withdrawal, loneliness, and depression. Men are more likely to express emotions, which can lead to aggressiveness, impulsiveness, coerciveness and non-compliant behavior, according to the study. The researchers suggested that it was differences in these tendencies to suppress or express emotions that accounted for gender differences in prevalence of many mental disorders.

When considering gender and mental illness, one must look to both biology and social/cultural factors to explain areas in which men and women develop different mental illnesses. Neurochemical and brain structure differences by sex, as well as differing gender roles enforced by society, can often lead to different expression of frustration with the system.[clarification needed] This frustration often affects the mind and manifests according to its source. Learned behavior also comes into play; men and women learn different ways to channel their emotions and thus develop different emotional frustrations and ways of expressing these frustrations.

Popular culture, though usually an agent of enforcing gender norms, does not tend to depict the gender divide in mental illness. Rather, when it comes to fictional depictions in mass media, the tendency is toward whichever symptoms best add to the drama or humor of a film, television show, or story, regardless of whether or not these symptoms are usually expressed by people of a certain gender with a particular mental illness.

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  1. ^ a b c d e "Gender and women's health". World Health Organization. Retrieved 2007-05-13. 
  2. ^ a b Rosenfield, Sarah (1999). Gender and Mental Health: Do Women Have More Psychopathology, Men More, or Both the Same (and Why). printed on handbook for study of mental health ed. Horwitz, A and Scheid, T. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  3. ^ Sansone, R. A.; Sansone, L. A. (2011). "Gender patterns in borderline personality disorder". Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience 8 (5): 16–20. PMC 3115767. PMID 21686143. 

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