New research has revealed that women tend to suffer more from anxiety and depression, while men are more frequently diagnosed with substance abuse or anti-social disorders.

Study author and psychologist Nicholas R. Eaton, MA, of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and colleagues suggested that the variations between genders may be due to differences in how the sexes handle emotions and stress.

The scientists explained that women are more likely to internalize their feelings, which correlates with a negative affect. Men, on the other hand, tend to externalize their emotions; such tendencies are linked to increased impulsivity and a loss of inhibition, inclinations that are associated with drug, alcohol and nicotine abuse. Antisocial personality disorder, a psychological condition marked by a persistent lack of concern for other's rights that is frequently exhibited through violence, is also more likely to result when emotions are attributed to outside causes and people.

How Does Gender Affect Mental Health?

In evaluating the role of gender in prevalence rates of mental disorders, the team looked at data collected through the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) from 2001-2. All participants of that survey were 18 or older, with women comprising 57% of the total, and Latinos and African-Americans each making up nearly 20%.

NESARC subjects were questioned by trained interviewers about mental illness diagnoses throughout their lives and during the previous year. Results showed that both across their lifetimes and during the past 12 months, women's depression and anxiety rates were higher, while men had more diagnoses for all externalizing-type illnesses, including alcohol and drug dependency, and antisocial personality conditions.

Specifically, 22.9% of women had a lifetime history of depression, compared to 13.1% of men. Meanwhile, 17.4% of males had been diagnosed with alcohol dependency during their lifetime, in contrast with 8.0% among women. Panic disorder, a condition characterized by brief yet intense episodes of extreme fear and anxiety, was seen in 7.2% of women, in contrast to 3.7% for men across their lifetime.

The findings, published online in the latest issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, prompted the researchers to suggest different treatment methods for psychiatric disorders to account for gender differences. Rather than providing treatments that only address the manifestations of mental illnesses, the team recommended therapies that focus on internalizing-externalizing factors specific to women and men.

Different Treatments Work Better For Each Gender

For instance, cognitive therapy that train women to cope better with emotions could reduce the incidence of negative behaviors such as ruminations or distortions. Those actions are counter-productive and detract women from focusing on problem-solving, while contributing to the development of depression and anxiety.

Men should be encouraged to reward themselves for behavior that is planned, rather than impulsive, thus increasing the likelihood of more acceptable actions. Their aggressive leanings should also be reshaped into actions that are not harmful to themselves or others.

The team acknowledged limitations of their study, noting that in reporting their experiences, the participants' reports may have been skewed by memory bias. Also, the study did not include a review of more debilitating psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Date of original publication:

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