Gender and mental health - How do they relate, and what can we change?

Gender, as a construct, has been a more addressed topic lately - with people becoming more comfortable and willing to fully accept their gender identities, no matter how complex. But does gender have anything to do with your mental health? Gender is a critical determinant to mental health - it directly reflects the power and control that people have over their daily struggles, with regard to their social status, position and treatment in society.

On a two-gender scale (as observed by most scientific studies), the American Psychological Association states that female identifying people usually fall under internalized disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and somatic symptom difficulties - often stemming from experiences with socioeconomic disadvantages, gender-based violence, and responsibility for the care of others. But socio-economic influences aren’t the only aspects in the substantial gap between male and female identifying patients diagnosed with internalized disorders. Other potential risk factors for female patients can come from internal chemical influence from sex hormones (oestadiol and progesterone can both modify neurotransmitters, AND influence cognition and behavioral processes), low self esteem and ruminating as imposed by society around us, and even the natural hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal-axis response to stress in female bodies (oestadiol elevates stress hormones in the body during non-threatening situations, as well as during and after stressors).

Male identifying people fall on the opposite side - externalized disorders, which often result in aggressive, non-compliant, coercive and impulsive behaviors. This can be seen in a higher rate of alcohol dependence (1 in 5 men, versus 1 in 12 women), and having an overall 3x higher likelihood of being diagnosed with antisocial disorders. This does not mean, however, that men do not experience internalized disorders as well - nearly 1 in 10 men experience depression or anxiety, but in a study of 21,000 American men, less than half sought treatment. This comes from the same societal pressures put on women, but on the opposite spectrum. Men are expected to be strong, to provide, to hold their emotions in and push through the pain - whatever type of pain it may be. Suicide rates are drastically higher in men than in women - at a rate of 3.5x higher than female suicide rates. Depression, when left untreated, can cause suicidal thoughts and tendencies - with so few men reaching out to find support and help for their mental health wellness, and instead suffering in silence, this may be a reason why the suicide rate is higher.

Social hierarchy and status have a large impact on your mental health, and the way society sees you is commonly tied directly to your gender identity. Women are seen as caregivers, as servants and helpers - but rarely leaders or powerful icons. Men are expected to be strong, and powerful - but rarely seen as soft, or scared. Being anything in between the stereotype adds an entirely new layer of discovery, but at the end of the day emotions have no gender, and every person is individual. No matter your gender identity, the best course of action if you are ever questioning your own mental health wellbeing, or that of a loved one, is to seek the help of a mental health professional. After all - emotions have no gender, so don’t lock yours in the dark.