Should Men and Women Have Different Mental Health Services?

When facing mental illness, should men and women have different mental health services? Here's what to know about this topic

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January 29, 2020
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Access to mental health services and support is an important topic that is only now being discussed as essential for wellbeing and overall health. Both men and women need access to mental health services in order to thrive, and unfortunately, many people have trouble getting the support they need.

In thinking about the state of mental health services in the United States, we need to ask some challenging questions in order to ensure that everyone is taken care of according to their needs. For instance, should men and women have different mental health needs? Or should everyone be given the same care, regardless of gender?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. There are lots of variables at play that can affect the services each person needs. Here are just some of the factors that can affect which mental health services are most appropriate.

Do Men and Women Have Different Mental Health Needs?

Biological differences and gender-based cultural socialization can both play a role in a person’s mental health, but does this mean that men and women have different needs for mental health support? Quite possibly, according to recent research.

Israeli neuroscientist Hermona Soreq has uncovered differences in the brains of male and female schizophrenia patients and feels that it’s time for women and men to receive different treatment for mental illness, according to these differences. Many women, she argues, do not get the mental health care they need because these diseases have been viewed through a male lens for so long.

Because the field of medicine has been dominated by men for so many years, many mental illnesses have been studied only from the male perspective. In addition, male mice are almost always used for testing because they do not have complex reproductive cycles that can affect the research schedule. Cumulatively, this means that the needs of women are often overlooked.

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Women’s Mental Health vs. Men’s Mental Health

 Men and women can both be affected by mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, and schizophrenia. But these disorders often manifest in different ways and can involve different symptoms in men and women.

Overall, women are more likely than men to suffer from severe mental illness. In the United States, 5.7% of adult women and 3.3% of men are diagnosed with a serious mental illness each year. This may be due to the fact that women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, which heavily contribute to certain mental illnesses.

Women also often wait longer before seeking help for problems like PTSD, due to lingering stigma, shame, and other cultural factors. These facts show us that women and men may need different services in order to achieve optimal individual well-being.

What About Work? Is Offering Different Mental Health Services Promoting Gender Inequality?

 Mental health in the workplace is key to productivity and happiness. In fact, anxiety and depression alone cost employers worldwide about $1 trillion each year in productivity. That’s huge, and it’s an enormous incentive for companies to offer their employees mental health services.

But how should employers approach mental health services for men and women in the workplace? Is offering different services actually discriminatory? Obviously, equality is important. But what we need to be thinking about is equity—the process of compensating for disadvantages that exist for a group in order to work toward equality.

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Historically, women’s mental health needs have been dismissed more often than men’s. Because of this, offering mental health services that promote equity and acknowledge the different needs men and women have is key. However, it is also important for employers to understand and comply with federal and state regulations while ensuring that employees feel supported instead of excluded or singled out.

Do Mental Health Needs Shift with Age?

As if the biological and cultural factors of mental health needs weren’t enough, there’s the question of age. Do a person’s needs shift as they age? Unsurprisingly, the answer is yes.

Over 20% of the senior population in the United States has at least one mental health issue. Older people may develop conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, but they may also suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that affect every age group.

Seniors often do not have support from friends or family members and may struggle with isolation. It’s absolutely crucial for people to have access to mental health services as they age, regardless of gender identity.

Making Mental Health a Priority For Everyone

As a society, we’re finally beginning to acknowledge just how common and devastating mental illness of all types can be. Depression and anxiety cause huge numbers of men and women to struggle on a regular basis and can make everyday activities difficult.

We need to continue to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness and understand that everyone needs mental health services to thrive. Understanding the needs of different groups is key to ensuring that everyone gets the specialized help they need when they need it.