Although the arts of self-reflection and introspection may just come more easily to women than men — rightly or wrongly being considered the more emotionally attuned of the sexes, they also have a harder time with obsessive overthinking and rumination. So how much does our gender affect how we experience common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression?
Gender and depression
Here’s the tea: most sufferers of anxiety and depression today are women. Women are also more likely to attempt suicide, although men are at a higher risk of completing suicide.
There are multiple reasons behind all of these statistics. But in short, they suggest that women are more prone to feeling overwhelmed in the first place. Men, however, are more likely for their battle with depression to end in tragic consequences.
So… Is Depression Sexist?
These differences regarding how each gender develops and copes with depression are most likely not only a result of our physiology (most notably, our varying hormone levels) but also a consequence of the sexism and gender norms that still permeate our society. These gender norms pile expectations and anxieties onto women, making most of us doubt our every asset — from our professional competence, to our body, to our sense of self-worth — on a daily basis.
But simultaneously, those same gender stereotypes are piling pressure onto men. Not to cry. To “man up.” Not to show any vulnerability. To make money, to provide, to fulfill the modern ideal of “successful” above all else.
According to MentalHealth.org.uk:
- Women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
- One in five (19.1%) women have clinical depression symptoms, compared with one in eight men (12.2%)
- Each year, around 78% of suicide victims are male, compared with 22% that are female.
- 10% of mothers and 6% of fathers have mental health problems at any given time.
Whatever your gender, the British charity, Mind, claims that one in four people worldwide will experience some form of mental illness in any given year. And so, even if you haven’t yet experienced some form of mental health issue. The chances are that someone in your close family or circle of friends is currently grappling with something. Or will do at some point this year — along with a quarter of all the people you know.
Regarding the link between gender and mental health, maybe there’s some truth behind the age-old stereotype that women hone in on the details whereas men focus on the bigger picture — that women are communicators while men are lone wolves.
Either way, these statistics should be used to fuel further research into how we can tailor and improve our approach to the ever-increasing public mental health crisis — taking into account the most pressing needs of both women and men.
Gender and Depression Triggers
Other research suggests that women and men tend to have different triggers for anxiety and depression. Reports show that men are more likely to be consumed by stress relating to work and finances. Women, however, are generally more sensitive to conflict within their relationships, or the health and wellbeing of themselves or their loved ones.
Wait…does this mean that the sexists were right all along? That men are the go-getters and the money-makers? While women are more focused on feelings or what goes on at home?
Well, not exactly.
But this research sheds light on how our biology — or at the very least, our sociology — can actually have a noticeable impact on what we prioritize and fear most in life. Women may have their eye on a promotion or business opportunity just as much as any man. But as a general rule, it’s their interpersonal difficulties that have a higher chance of spiraling into depression. Likewise, men may cherish their partner, friends, or family just as much as any woman. But the leading cause of depression among the gender is the pressure to succeed professionally and financially. To accomplish. To “make something of themselves.”
Mars vs. Venus?
Furthermore, other research has revealed that men are more susceptible to depression as a result of more long-term effects of stress, whereas women are more prone to getting depression as a result of immediate stressors that are affecting them in the current moment. This, interestingly, could also partly explain why more women than men suffer from depression at any given time, while men struggle more to cope with it in the long-term, as they tend to develop depression some time after a stressful or traumatic event occurred, rather than straight away as is more likely among women.
These gender trends — however you may personally receive them — raise several questions:
Does our gender determine our sense of purpose? What do we both most strive for and most fear in life?
Or alternatively, have the long-standing societal pressures — for men to provide and achieve status, and for women to be likable, nurturing, and cultivate relationships — affected us to such a degree that even today, where we desperately attempt to close the door on the gender norms of yesteryear, they still live on via our mental health?
I’m not here (today, at least!) to argue whether these stereotypes and expectations are right, wrong, natural, or fabricated — I’m just here to tell you that they still exist, and still permeate much of how we think and what we do — whether or not you personally subscribe to them. And so, even the most forward-thinking of us can fall prey to these gendered insecurities. And our data on mental health is shaped as a result.
Gender and Depression: The Bottom Line
The gender differences in mental health could be a result of nature, nurture, or (most likely) a combination of both. From our natural instincts, to our hormone levels, to our upbringings and how we come to believe our gender is expected to behave — there are countless factors to consider whenever a gender discrepancy like this one comes out of the woodwork.
All mental health issues are serious and should be approached with great concern and empathy. But do these gender differences propose an additional problem? Or is this merely a reflection of how existing gender differences that apply to all areas of life, also predictably apply to how each gender experiences mental health problems?
All you need to know is that anyone can suffer from depression, and for various reasons — including for no apparent reason at all. Your gender may or may not play a part. But all experiences are valid.
Do you suffer from a mental health issue related to anxiety or depression? Do you think your gender plays a part in how you suffer from this? If you feel able to do so, then please share your experiences with us in the comments.
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