Gender, sexuality and mental health

Gender, sexuality and mental health

The over-representation of women in psychiatric diagnoses

The question which was asked in relation to the above is: Does society drive women mad? That question has really stuck in my mind because it’s just such a succinct way of defining the issue.

Overall, women are more likely than men to receive a diagnosis, but in tertiary services (medium- and maximum-security psychiatric hospitals), men are over-represented. There are no significant gender differences in secondary services (acute psychiatric units in general hospitals), but within primary care settings, women are far more likely than men to receive a diagnosis.

As an aside, I hate the way non-binary people are simply erased from this discussion. I think continuous erasure definitely contributes towards the stress that we experience, but whether or not that impacts on mental health challenges, or our non-binary gender identities are influenced by our already existing neurodivergence, I cannot say for certain. I also don’t mean to imply that all non-binary people have some form of neurodivergence. I’m only really speaking about my own personal experience here.

There are other notable gender patterns:

  1. Some diagnoses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar, are not gendered but are identified earlier in men.
  2. Some diagnoses, such as post-natal depression and post-partum psychosis, are limited to women.
  3. Some diagnoses, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are overwhelmingly applied to women.
  4. Some diagnoses, such as anti-social personalities, are overwhelmingly applied to men.
  5. Some diagnoses, such as substance misuse, are more likely to be applied to men.
  6. Some diagnoses, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, are more likely to be applied to women.

The above patterns are based on data from North America and Europe, so they are not necessarily generalisable to the global population.

Does society cause excessive mental health challenges in women?

There are two aspects of women’s traditional gender roles that can go towards explaining why women experience more mental health challenges than men:

  1. Lack of structure gives women more time to ‘brood.’
  2. Men have more structure in the workplace.

Aren’t those explanations somewhat sexist and stereotypical? Why do we insist on stereotyping men and women in this way?

Is the over-representation of women a measurement artefact?

Once again, as with artefact explanations for differences in SES groups, evidence shows that the over-representation of women is not as a result of measurement artefacts.

The over-representation of women could, however, be the result of differences in help-seeking behaviour because women are more likely than men to seek help.

Are women labelled more often than men?

According to feminist literature, patriarchal authority is responsible for over-representation. Because the medical field is still generally dominated by men, the over-representation of women with mental health challenges could be seen as a form of social control.

Men, distress, dangerousness and mental health services

Just as women are at risk of being stereotyped as weak and ill, men are at risk of being stereotyped as violent.

It is worthwhile noting that men are more likely than women to engage in antisocial behaviour and this means that they are more likely to be labelled as criminally deviant whereas women are labelled as ‘mentally ill.’

Masculinity meets feminity

Hegemonic masculinity, often the dominant form of masculinity within Westernised societies, means that men’s symptoms of depression go unrecognised because men are expected to be ‘tough’ and resilient.

Gender and sexuality

Homosexual men and women present with more mental health challenges than heterosexual men and women.

Strangely, the text did not explore how heterosexuality is the dominant form of sexuality within society, and this leads to homosexual people being othered on a continuous basis.

Interestingly, evidence suggests that homosexual men have been seen as the priority. Again, this relates to patriarchy because within patriarchal societies, it is more important to focus on the men than the women. However, this prioritising of homosexual men has meant that homosexual men were more likely to experience coercive corrective ‘treatment’ and this has had obvious negative impacts on the mental wellbeing of those men. Fortunately, through excellent activism, homosexuality has been officially removed from the DSM and is no longer viewed as a disorder. Despite this, societal views have not yet changed sufficiently in order for homosexual people to experience the same level of privilege as heterosexual people.


This is part of a series of summaries that I am doing in order to revise Sociology of Mental Health. It won’t be shared on social media, but anyone is welcome to read these posts if they would be of interest.

If you would like to read more, most of this information came from this book.