Gender and mental health

Gender is one of the critical determinants of mental health. It determines the power and control men and women have over the socioeconomic determinants of their mental health and lives, their social position, status and treatment in society.

Gender differences occur particularly in the rates of common mental disorders (depression, anxiety, somatic complaints). These disorders, in which women predominate, affect approximately one in three people in the community and constitute a serious public health problem.

  • Unipolar depression is twice as common in women.
  • Lifetime prevalence rate for alcohol dependence is more than twice as high in men than women (in developed countries, about 1 in 5 men and 1 in 12 women develop alcohol dependence during their lives).
  • Men are more than three times more likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.
  • No marked gender differences have been found in the rates of severe mental disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder).
  • Gender-specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include gender-based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income, low/subordinate social status and responsibility for the care of others.
Economic and social circumstances that cause sudden or severe changes to employment and income significantly increase gender inequality and the rate of common mental disorders. Programmes and activities that address the social determinants of mental health and tackle stigma and discrimination related to mental illness, and activities to empower mental health service users and their families must be designed in a gender-sensitive way and promote gender equity.