Mental illnesses affect women and men differently-some disorders are more common in women, and some express themselves with different symptoms. Scientists are only now beginning to better understand what causes these gender differences.
While more women suffer from depression, researchers are beginning to understand that men may not be recognizing that they are depressed, and also not seeking treatment as often as women. Depression is a serious medical condition that affects the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way one eats and sleeps, one’s self-concept, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. But appropriate treatment, often involving medication and/or short-term psychotherapy (talk therapy), can help most people who suffer from depression.
Anxiety disorders, which include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder, affect about 13 percent of Americans ages 18 to 54 in a given year. Women outnumber men in each of these illnesses, but men suffer equally from OCD and social phobia.
Schizophrenia is the most chronic and disabling of the mental disorders, equally affecting about 1 percent of women and men worldwide. The illness typically appears earlier in men (in their late teens or early 20s) than in women, who are generally affected in their 20s or early 30s. And although women with schizophrenia may have more depressive symptoms, paranoia, and auditory hallucinations (hear and see things that do not really exist) than men, men do not respond as well to the typical medicines used to treat this disorder.
As women and men age, their risk increases for developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a dementing brain disorder that leads to the loss of mental and physical functioning and eventually to death. Studies have shown that while the number of new cases of AD is similar in older adult women and men, the total number of existing cases is somewhat higher among women. Some possible reasons for this difference include: AD may progress more slowly in women than in men; that women with AD may survive longer than men with AD; and that men, in general, do not live as long as women and die of other causes before AD has a chance to develop.