Regardless of where in the world you look, or when throughout history you consider, gender bias has been and continues to be a very prevalent issue.
Our ideologies, values, and practices have changed significantly over the years, and now, more than ever, attention is being drawn to the issues surrounding gender inequalities. However, despite the many steps being taken towards closing the “gender gap” that continues to plague us, these inequalities still exist in, essentially, every aspect of our society.
When we hear about the gender gap, we automatically think of unequal pay, or domestic abuse cases – but it is so much more than that. Whether in politics, the media, our workplaces, or even the schoolyard, our gender more than likely plays an active role in how people treat us, the opportunities afforded to us, etc.
These inequalities affect more than just our wallets or our job titles – they are affecting our health.
While it may not be the first example of gender inequality you conjure, there is a prominent, and concerning, gender bias in mental health diagnoses.
The Issue at Hand
Men and women are equally at risk of mental health issues. Illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, or addiction, do not care what gender you are.
Despite this, women are generally more likely to be treated for mental health issues than men are, and not only by a fraction. Approximately 29% of women receive treatment for mental health issues, yet only 17% of men can say the same.
This disparity, especially given the potentially equal affliction, leads us to believe that a large percentage of men suffering from such issues are not being provided with the help they need.
That is where the gender bias in mental health diagnoses becomes a real problem.
Why does the Gender Bias in Mental Health Diagnosis Exist?
Mental health is a complex subject, which is made even more complex when we attempt to dissect the ways in which it affects individuals based on factors such as gender.
While gender should not be just cause for such unbalanced diagnoses, there are a few reasons why this gender gap may exist:
Mental health issues affect men and women equally, yet differently.
In general, yes – women and men are equally susceptible to an array of mental health issues. Mental health issues are not gender specific.
However, this does not mean that certain mental health issues are not more common among one gender or another.
For example, women are much more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even dementia, whereas men are more likely to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or addiction.
Men are less likely to seek help regarding their mental health.
Men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings, right? It makes them look weak, right? Men are meant to be strong, supportive, and tough, right?
These unrealistic expectations and stereotypes of what a “real” man is or how he should act are one of the primary reasons men internalize their mental health struggles rather than seeking help or guidance.
When men do seek help, they are often improperly diagnosed.
Of course, not all men are afraid to speak out – but even of those who, many ends up being improperly diagnosed.
This may be because men often experience different symptoms and present their issues much differently than women. Where a woman dealing with depression may display sadness, retract from social situations, be overly quiet, etc., a man dealing with depression may respond with anger, irritability, or impulsivity.
This disparity in symptoms can lead even the most experienced mental health professional to misinterpret the situation or issue at hand.
How Can We Combat it?
Two of the most important and effective actions we can take to work towards eliminating the gender bias that is present in mental health diagnoses are to:
- Eliminate the Stigma Attached to Mental Health Issues, and
- Eliminate Gender Stereotypes
Both of these often create an ideology or an environment that makes men feel unable to or uncomfortable with displaying, discussing, or even accepting any mental health issues they may be facing. Because of this, men are commonly mis- or under-diagnosed or fail to seek aid in the first place.
By working towards eliminating these negative connotations surrounding mental health and the “macho-man” expectations men feel they need to live up to, we may also work towards more gender-balanced mental health statistics – everyone can receive the help they need and deserve.