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Are there Gender Differences in Utah for Mental Illnesses?

Are there Gender Differences in Utah for Mental Illnesses?

The rates of mental illnesses are different for men and women in Utah, but the size and nature of the difference has a huge amount of uncertainty attached to it. Below, you’ll find an overview of what we do know and how Utah residents can better interpret the circus of information that’s out there. For details and stories closer to home, we recommend you check out the MHAU resource on the treatment of men, women, and mental health in Utah.


Gender Research on the Rates of Mental Illnesses

Even for many of the most basic questions about rates of mental illnesses, there is little consensus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Overall rates of psychiatric disorder are almost identical for men and women but striking gender differences are found in the patterns of mental illness.” The article then goes on to list the most commonly cited facts about specific disorders:

  • Depression is twice as common in women—and more persistent.
  • Alcoholism is more than twice as common in men.
  • Antisocial personality is almost three times as likely in men.

A recent TIME Magazine article directly disputes this claim. By carefully looking at international epidemiological data, researchers concluded that “in any given year total rates of psychological disorder are 20-40% higher in women than men.”

Who’s right? By reading each article closely, it becomes clear that the difference between the two claims isn’t all that big. You know how people can make statistics say anything? Here’s a great example: Easily the most common disorder, depression has an outsized effect on the overall rates of mental illnesses. Dual diagnosis, in which at least two mental disorders are present, can also be counted a couple different ways in this calculation. By looking at the total number of cases, it’s pretty clear that women are somewhat more likely than mean to receive a diagnosis. By instead looking at the overall distribution of gender populations across multiple mental health criteria, it’s easy for the WHO to equivocate.


More Depressing Numbers

The complications don’t stop there. The ways in which conceptualize and classify mental illnesses have a huge impact of their own. In just one example, there is an ongoing debate in the mental health field about how the expression of anger and reckless behavior might fit into the criteria for depressive disorder. Already the DSM-5 has included a new depression category for childhood and adolescent individuals with unusually high anger and irritability. If one includes these characteristics, which disproportionately affect men, the gap between men and women essentially disappears for both depression and mental illness.


Media Representations

Rather than the different claims about the statistical realities, it’s the presentation of both these articles that deserve more scrutiny. The title of TIME title, “It’s Not Just Sexism, Women do Suffer more from Mental Illness,” is out of context to draw more clicks and eyeballs. Moreover, the title provides its own context for condoning and acting out of sexism as in: “See, I’m not being sexist, women really are crazier than men.”

In the context of the article, it’s clear rather that the sexism is not water-cooler conversation, but a subtle—if potentially damaging—form of institutional bias. In this case, the example is the WHO appearing to be afraid of being sexist, or at least overly sensitive to socio-political pressures, by marginalizing the difference in overall numbers of men and women who face a mental illness. In today’s publishing world, titles more often reflect a media marketing strategy than the actual approach taken by the authors. But think about how different the connotation would be if the Time article were instead titled: “WHO ignores Facts about Mental Illness Rates in Men and Women.”

It’s Not Just Sexism, Women Do Suffer More From Mental Illness



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