Monday, May 11, 2009

New report underscores gender disparities in mental health and illness

An excerpt from this article by CNN about a new report by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services that examines the role gender plays in mental health and illness:

"Action Steps for Improving Women's Mental Health," a new report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health (OWH), explores the role gender plays in the diagnosis, course and treatment of mental
illness. It calls for specific actions to counteract the inadequacies in this field.

According to the report, women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from major depression. They are three times as likely to attempt suicide, and they experience anxiety disorders two to three times more often than men. While these statistics are not new, their importance is generally underplayed, says Wanda Jones, Dr.P.H., health scientist and director of the OWH. She notes that whereas past reports have focused on bringing mental health to the forefront of concern -- such as the 1999 publication "Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General" -- few have focused primarily on the specific mental illness issues specific to women, hence the need for such a publication.

Among the actions recommended by the new report are the needs to underscore the essential importance of women's mental health to overall well-being, improve how primary care doctors and mental health professionals interface with each other, develop a greater understanding in the role of gender in mental illness, recognize the role of trauma and violence against women and its subsequent impact on mental illness and address cultural biases that serve as barriers to treatment for many women.

Reasons for the gender disparities in mental health are still unclear, according to Jones. Part of the difference is based on biology. Female hormones, thyroid disease and brain biochemistry have all been cited as possible reasons. Genetics also play a part, as family history has proven that mental illness repeats itself across multiple generations. Socio-cultural reasons also contribute to the difference.

Jones stresses that the "one-size-fits-all" approach to diagnosing and treating mental illness is not an effective approach and that acknowledging the gender differential is key to adequately and appropriately treating women.

The new report also underscores the relative young age at which mental illness often sets in for both males and females. Half of all mental illnesses occur before age 14, and three-fourths occur by the age of 24, according to the publication. Among the more common mental illnesses seen among young women: eating disorders,
which can start in advance of puberty and yet last a lifetime.

The full article is here.

(h/t to Media dis&dat)