It is estimated that 1 in 4 people globally will be affected by mental or neurological disorders in their lifetime. Yet, the magnitude of mental illness is not matched by the amount of resources and awareness that the burden demands.
Mental illnesses affect women and men differently. The prevalence of mental health issues in women is directly related to the frequency and severity of gender discrimination, violence against women, socioeconomic disadvantage, and subordinate social status.
Depression, predicted to be the second leading cause of global disability burden by 2020, is twice as common in women as it is in men, affecting women at a rate of 41.9% and men at 29.3%. Additionally, 80% of people affected by violent conflicts, natural disasters, and displacement are women and children, which also contributes to greater trauma and stress. In a lifetime, violence against women ranges from 16% to 50%, and at least 1 in 5 women will suffer from rape or attempted rape.
Gender stereotypes of greater emotional issues and sensitivity in women prevent some women from seeking treatment or serve as a barrier to accurate diagnosis and treatment. In fact, women are prescribed mood-altering psychotropic drugs at a higher rate than men. Women also report receiving insensitive care in relation to trauma, such as victim-blaming for sexual assault, which serves as another barrier to accessing treatment.
Alleviating the burden of mental illness in women will greatly reduce the burden of global mental health, especially for depressive disorders. However, before eliminating gender bias in mental health care, countries worldwide must first implement stronger mental health services overall. Currently, countries face many barriers to implementing such programs, including stigmatization, lack of financial resources, and shortages of trained professionals.
Some mental disorders can be prevented while most can be properly treated, but countries must invest the time and resources to this cause. The World Health Organization reports that 40% of countries do not have a mental health policy and over 30% do not have mental health programs. Ignoring the growing burden of global mental health will have severe social and economic consequences worldwide, especially if women and men continue to be misdiagnosed and mistreated.
Cover photo credit: Darcy Adelaide/Flickr (Creative Commons)