International Women’s Day: Recognising the gender inequality of mental illness
By Saoirse Osborne
As well as a time to celebrate society’s progress towards gender equality, today is also a moment to reflect on the areas in which there is still some way to go.
Here at Hammersley Homes, we are aware of how mental illness can affect different genders in different ways; in the rates, symptoms, and treatments.
In general, women are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness than men (1 in 5 women versus 1 in 8 men). Although it’s hard to know how much of this is due to different rates of self-reporting and diagnosis, there is a clear difference. It is caused by both biological factors such as hormones, and social factors – women are more likely to experience sexual violence, and are also be more likely to have poorer living conditions – both of which have been linked to mental illness.
Women with severe psychiatric illnesses appear more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse as well as physical ill-health: they are particularly in need of services like Hammersley Homes, which aims to provide safe, supported accommodation for vulnerable people.
When it comes to illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, rates of diagnosis are similar. However, gender differences do still exist here. Women develop schizophrenia later in life, and experience more hallucination and lethargy, whereas male symptoms tend to be related to memory and concentration. Women with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop an unpredictable form of illness.
It’s crucial that these differences in symptoms are properly understood to improve rates of accurate diagnosis.
For women with mental illnesses, gender differences also affect their treatment. Many antipsychotic medications, for instance, cause more severe side effects for women – worryingly, mental health clinicians are often unaware of these differences.
International Women’s Day is about striving for equality. However, such equality can only be achieved when differences in mental illness between men and women are recognised and understood. Only then will each sufferer of mental illness receive the accurate diagnosis, treatment, and support they need to live a fulfilling life. This is part of our purpose at Hammersley Homes, to be there to offer this support – to provide safety, security, comfort and friendship, for life.
You can read more about gender and mental illness here:
For a more thorough discussion of gender’s implications for mental health services, check out https://www.bma.org.uk/media/2115/bma-womens-mental-health-report-aug-2018.pdf
You can also find out about our services and vision for supported housing at Hammersley Homes here: https://hammersleyhomes.org/