Gender and Mental Illness: 7 Important Facts You Should Know

While mental health is a crucial part of overall wellness for all individuals, it can impact men and women in different ways. This is true of both adults and teenagers, with the latter group experiencing increasingly greater rates of mental health challenges such as depression. In order for adults to provide teens with the proper education and support to protect their mental health, they must be aware of the gender disparities in various mental illnesses. Here a several important facts regarding how men and women may experience mental illness differently:

  1. In general, mental illness is more common among women

Mental illness occurs more frequently in females by a margin of 20 percent to 40 percent. This is true for a number of reasons. For one, women make up a larger portion of the individuals who experience the most common mental anguishpsychological disorders, such as depression, with research suggesting that depression and other mood disorders in women may even be more persistent over the long-term. In addition, mental health providers find that women experience a greater rate of co-occurring mental health conditions.

A number of biological and environmental factors may also be responsible for the higher rate of mental illness among women. Some research suggests that mood disorders may be passed on genetically. The higher rate of trauma and violence experienced by women, as well as the subjugated societal positions held by women in many places, may also play a role in the elevated instances of women’s mental health challenges.

  1. Gender disparities in mental health emerge after puberty.

Before age 12, there is little contrast between the rates of mental health challenges among boys and girls. However, girls older than 12 are twice as likely to experience emotional disorders as their male peers. Mental health researchers have not yet detected any gender differences in the rates of more severe conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, regardless of age.

  1. Males are more likely to struggle with substance abuse.

Compared to women, men are over twice as likely to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol within their lifetime. However, the gender disparity in substance abuse rates only broadens as individuals age. Beyond 10th grade, drug abuse rates are fairly equal between males and females, but by 12th grade, it is more common among boys. In addition, teen boys are more likely to experiment with drugs at an earlier age than their female counterparts, due largely to a wider availability of opportunities.

  1. Men are more than three times as likely to experience anti-social personality disorder.

Also known as sociopathy, this condition causes individuals to exhibit a lack of empathy or concern for ethical soundness. Often individuals with this disorder act without regard for the feelings of others, and are unlikely to show remorse for harming others or violating laws or societal norms.


  1. Gender can affect the appearance of depression symptoms.

In addition to experiencing the condition at differing rates, men and women also tend to experience depression in different ways. Women are prone to internalizing the feelings associated with mood disorders like depression, while men are more likely to express their negative thoughts externally. Women are more likely to ruminate while struggling with depression, dwelling on their feelings in negative cycles. Additionally, women who struggle with another mental condition, such as anxiety or an eating disorder, are more likely to experience depression as a co-occurring disorder. Men are more likely to seek outward distractions like drugs and alcohol.

  1. Men and women also respond differently to anxiety.

Differences in the way that men and women respond to negative emotions can also have an impact on how they exhibit anxiety disorders. Because they have a tendency to internalize their emotions, women often respond to anxiety by withdrawing from those around them, which can lead to loneliness and depression. In contrast, the male tendency to externalize emotions may lead them to respond to anxiety in aggressive or impulsive ways, potentially leading to deviant or self-destructive behavior. A recent psychological study by the University of Minnesota published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that the gendered tendencies to internalize or externalize emotional challenges may determine not only the prevailing symptoms of a mental health disorder, but also its prevalence among men and women.

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  1. Gender can impact the mental health treatment process.

An individual’s gender can impact how they view their own mental health, how others respond to their emotional challenges, and how likely they are to seek help from a mental health professional. For example, due to stereotypes that label women as overly emotional, teen and adolescent girls may hesitate to talk to parents, peers, or medical professionals about their emotional struggles. Similarly, societal trends that idealize strength and stoicism as favorable male qualities may cause a teen boy to hesitate to seek support when feelings of anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem become difficult to handle. Studies suggest that these factors may impact men at a higher rate than women; while one out of every four women will seek treatment for depression, just one-tenth of men will receive professional mental health support for the condition. Preexisting notions about the prevalence of mental health disorders among men and women may also lead physicians to develop implicit biases that impact their diagnoses. For these reasons, it is crucial to spread awareness about the differences in men’s and women’s mental health, while still stressing that mental wellness is a universal concern.