Mental Illnesses in Women vs Men

Problematic stigmas prevail in mental illness whether you are male or female. As a woman with bipolar, I can attest that the stigma is real and it is harsh. I learned early on to hide my disorder. Otherwise, I would be labeled as “crazy” or “incapable” or just not taken seriously at all. How does society judge men who have mental illness?

Facts:

Mental illnesses affect women differently than men.

  • Gender specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include gender based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and rank and responsibility for the care of others.
  • Unipolar depression is twice as common in women as it is in men
  • Substance use disorders are twice as high in men as they are in women
  • Men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorders than women (psychopaths and sociopaths)
  • There are no marked differences in prevalence of severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar between the genders
  • Disability from mental illness falls most heavily on those who experience three or more comorbid disorders. Here, women predominate.
  • Women are roughly three times more likely to attempt suicide, though men are two to four times more likely to die from suicide. Women show a much higher rate of suicidal thinking, non-fatal suicidal behavior, and suicide attempts.
  • The high prevalence of sexual violence to which women are exposed and the high rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following such violence, renders women the largest single group of people affected by this disorder.
  • Women with anxiety disorders are more likely to internalize emotions, which typically results in withdrawal, loneliness and depression. Men are more likely to externalize emotions, which leads to aggressive, impulsive, coercive and noncompliant behavior

Stigma

Gender stereotypes (i.e. women have more emotional problems and men have more substance use problems) reinforce social stigma and constrain help seeking along stereotypical lines.

So not only is it society that judges you for your mental issues. Doctors do too.

Let’s talk about social stigma. Is it not true that a man with a drinking problem can be written off as a “beer aficionado” or a “wine collector”? While a woman with a drinking problem is harshly judged as immoral, a lush or a drunk. As my mother taught me, a lady does not get drunk.

How about a woman suffering from depression? Is she not labeled as being “lazy” or a “drama queen” or a “bad mother”? Yet if a man with depression can’t get to work because he can’t get out of bed…send him straight to the mental hospital! Put him on suicide watch!

I’m not saying there are no stigmas of men who fight mental illness. For one thing, men are much less likely to seek medical treatment for fear of appearing weak.

In my opinion, men are taken much more seriously when they do seek help and are also not judged as harshly as women.

Women are more likely to attempt suicide but not die. Society says: she was just seeking attention. But this isn’t true. Men die more from suicide because they tend to choose more violent, lethal methods such a firearms, jumping, and hanging. Women usually choose to attempt suicide by overdosing on pills.

Stigma prevents men from seeking help because they don’t want to be “weak” or “sissies”. Women with children face fears of being branded as an unstable or unfit mother leading many women to hide their mental health problems. While men fear shame, women fear blame.

I do not like to play the victim. I am white, educated and middle class. But….we women still have a long way to go in terms of equality.

We have to deal with periods, PMS, taking birth control (can’t trust a man with that, sorry guys), then we carry babies for ten (not nine) months, give birth, breastfeed, and do (usually) the majority of the child raising.

Oh and we have to work full time throughout all of this, cook, clean, help with homework, run errands while hubby (if you even have one) watches football. If I sound bitter, I am. Guilty!

I can hear Super Mom out there saying “yes but we, as mothers, get to have that bond with our children”. True, until about age 13 when they decide that they hate you and they suddenly prefer their dad. I’ll say to my 15 year old son “don’t you remember that trip we took or that time we went camping or how I used to take you to the gun range every weekend?” Nope! All of that time and nurturing….and he doesn’t remember. But he remembers the one time his dad took him to the zoo.

Back to my point; as women we already have so much more “stuff” going on than men. AND, we end up having the majority of mental health problems. And negative stigmas to fight.

I have never burned my bra. I am pro-life. But I am a feminist. Not all feminists are cut from the same cloth. I believe we women deserve to be treated as equals. Maybe men can’t give birth. But they damned well put in 51% of the child raising! And some do. Fabulous. But too many don’t.

The workplace? Medical insurance? They have quite a ways to go for women. I don’t care if it’s the government or my employer who pays for it but I want 4-6 months PAID maternity leave for moms. I want mandatory flexible schedules and workplaces for moms. And (this maybe the only time you hear this Libertarian say this) this needs to be a law!

You think corporate America is going to just offer this? Maybe if you work for a large progressive company. All of the rest of us are racing to daycare at 6:30am, grinding out 9 hours of pressure-filled work, collecting our paycheck which is 70% of a man’s, racing back to daycare ti home to start Job #2 also known as Mom Duty. Dinner, dishes, homework, baths, bedtime…while hubby watches football. No wonder we’ve got mental illnesses, people!!!

What can we do? I’m good at asking questions but not so good with solutions. What do you think? Please let me know. I know you’ve got an opinion!

Hugs, 👍🏻✝️🧸💥

15 thoughts on “Mental Illnesses in Women vs Men

    1. I get all of my data from sites like the APA. If it’s a stereotype, so be it. I’m reporting what’s in mainstream media and studies from the NHO, the Mayo Clinic etc. Is it all 100% gospel? Of course not. Half, if not more than half, of medical scientific data is theoretical. Studies done on rats, not humans. Hell, scientists still can’t explain how lithium works! Lithium is possibly the oldest psychiatric med still being used today. They’ve had decades to figure it out! And look at the very first DSM. Homosexuality was listed as a mental illness. It should be called “The DSM: May not be facts but we’re gonna go with it anyway”

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  1. You know I’m totally on board with your opinions of the DSM and I don’t doubt your data at all. As the stay-at-home dad with bipolar disorder who tries to eke out a living as a freelance writer while my mentally stable wife earns the bulk of the money, including benefits. I’m the homework parent who brings the kids to their appointments and makes dinner most nights. It felt like a role reversal reading your stigma section of that entry. She still did deliver the babies, though.

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    1. I think I said “most” women are in that situation with the hubs in his man cave while she’s doing everything else. I didn’t mean to stereotype. If I did, I apologize. I know of men who are primary caregivers. My marriage was the hubs watching football while I literally went crazy trying to keep a hundred plates spinning in the air. I owned a business. I was primary bread winner. I was housewife, mom, basically manager of home and family. He worked and occasionally changed a diaper. Yay….give him a medal. Yes I’m still bitter! What I want women to hear is…you don’t have to do it all. Say no. If I’d have hade an issue out of it he probably would have stepped up. But in my messed up mind (this was pre bipolar diagnosis) I liked being the martyr. I bragged to anyone who would listen how I “did it all”. In retrospect, that was dumb. If you’ve got kids, you both work, you’ve got to divvy up the responsibilities 50/50. Period. I know women whose husbands just refused. They were drunks or always at work. In a situation like that, I don’t have much advice. I’d never advise someone, especially a stranger to divorce. Break up a family. My divorce was the most traumatic thing ever. I watched my child fall apart and end up, at age 10, getting treated for depression. Just about killed me. I tell women I know “never get divorced”. Take it from someone who’s done it! It is hell

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  2. I believe woman have different qualities then men. We are supposed to work together. Women have different difficulties springing from the difference. The possibility to give birth and nurture our children is something special. But strangely it “feels” like a disadvantage because of the economical repercussions. I am with you on the paid maternity leave. If they don’t ‘want’ to pay much, it’s fine (it’s not but for the sake of the argument). The reality is that women are forced to go back to work way too early. Workspaces and public spaces are not breastfeed friendly, not even child friendly sometimes. Women who care for their kids are not in the easiest place, are not being taken care of (fine) but then ‘they’ need another ‘generation’ to work, to make progress, to be able to pay taxes and so on but at no cost or investment! That is what really blows my mind. We are sometimes looked at as ‘the weaker’ ‘the lazy when ill’ or ‘bad mom when not perfect’. That is easy to say when you leave out all the other things women do and have to put with like you described. There are different sets to measure ‘succes’. Great post!

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    1. Thank you. Before I had my son, I tried and tried to think of a way I could care for him and still have an income. I had my own small business at the time but it wasn’t conducive to having a baby around. I went back to work when he was 2 months old. I had strong separation anxiety and feelings of guilt when I was at work. Sometimes I’d cry after dropping him off in the morning. After work, I insisted on being the one to care for him mainly to cover the guilt I’d felt all day when we were separated. I fed, bathed, played with, put down to sleep. In the middle of the night when he cried, I soothed him. I’d tell my husband “you’ve had a long day. Let me handle this”. I didn’t want to waste one second of time with my son. Very early on, I felt burnout. But I ignored that. My best friend was the only person who showed concern for my behavior. She wanted me to give the baby to my husband one night so I could join her for happy hour. Ha! Back in those days I never once socialized or spent “me time” relaxing. If I needed to get my hair done, baby came with me. Looking back, I see how unhealthy this all was. It wasn’t until my son was 4 and I had my “nervous breakdown” that I learned I had bipolar. Not that what I was doing was a bipolar thing. But my diagnosis prompted me to get treatment and therapy and that’s when I finally began to unravel my layers of guilt, shame and separation anxiety.

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      1. When you become a mom, it doesn’t come with a manual. It is so important to care of yourself and take rest but it can be so complicated. Dealing with mental health at the same time is an extra difficulty. You are very brave for doing all this, coping with it. ❤ I hope your story helps young mothers and mothers to be to open up about the struggles they come across because it can be a great help to find comfort in stories of others.

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  3. Canada is a lot more progressive in terms of maternity leave. It lasts for a year; the first few months are specified as maternity leave, and then the remainder of the time is considered parental leave that the parents can split up in whatever way is best for their family.

    I think it’s so short-sighted that most employers don’t offer flexible scheduling for parents, and also for people with health issues and other disabilities. Flexible scheduling keeps people healthier and more satisfied with their work, which in the end is going to benefit the employer.

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    1. Don’t get my started on American health care. It’s deplorable! The whole “employer providing healthcare” concept is crazy. What does my company have to do with my medical care? So many jobs provide no healthcare for employees. I think by law, a company is only required to offer it if they have 50 or more employees. Whatever! Makes no sense to me

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  4. Such an interesting post and so true from my experience (I write as my hubby is watching hour 6 of NFL lol). When my ex-husband would get loud and upset in counseling it was never labeled “hysterical” or “irrational” the way it was for me if I dared to get upset. Also his requests for help were taken so much more seriously than mine…it’s funny but I think that women are so capable – even when we are battling depression or mental issues – that we are just expected to carry on despite it. And often we will sacrifice our own health to meet others expectations. I think we need to get free from those first! Maybe not burn the bras but burn the expectations lol. I feel like our country is torn between the antiquated ideas of womanhood and the new ideals of equality. Thank you for pointing out yet another place where women need to be taken more seriously and given the same level of help and grace as men. We need to encourage and uphold each other until that becomes the norm.

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