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LaChaun Freeland

May 11, 2018

Gender and Mental Health

Throughout this course, we have discussed mental health and its various effects.

Included in our discussions were the causes and social statuses that impacted mental and

emotional well-being. One of those status being the issue of gender, more specifically how, if

at all gender effects mental health. Specifically, how do the circumstances differ between the

genders in regards to mental health?

“Women as a group are widely believed to have poorer mental health than men”

(Read, Porter and Gorman) that being said, women generally tend to withhold emotional

responses, internalizing stressors through depression and anxiety. Men, on the other hand,

express their stress through more physical behaviour such as drugs or alcohol abuse. 15.8%

of men are cited as heavy drinkers compared to 9.5% of women. (Read, Porter and Gorman)

The respective expressions of mental and emotional health, are the result of social norms

regarding “traditional” gender roles. Gender roles, that specify that displaying emotional

responses are considered a feminine trait, while aggression and risk-taking behaviour are

more masculine approaches. It is because of these social norms, divisions within the self, are

created and thus the mental health problems are reflected. Because women are believed to

suffer more emotionally than men, this leads to a damaging result for men, as feelings of

depression, anxiety and distress in men tend to go unreported.


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These varying gender responses to mental health can also be seen in Job Loss, Identity,

and Mental Health. Within this text, men seemed to struggle with their loss of identity more

than women, as men are seen to be the strong providers of their families. Because of this,

when men lost their jobs, it was harder for them emotionally. They needed to provide for

their families, so they are not able to break down emotionally, but instead needed focus on

finding work as they felt they needed to be providers and breadwinners for their families. This

is the opposite of women, who suffered a change in identity but were able to relish in that

change, by staying home as women are seen as emotional caregivers.

A perfect example of this gender-based mismatch is Paul from Job Loss, Identity and

Mental Health, who stated: “In my family and to myself I am known as a provider . . . the one

that gets the job and gets the money in to pay the bills. . . . That’s probably the number one

thing . . . I’m defined by how I provide.” (Norris) Being laid off from his job, Paul stated within

the text, that there were times he wanted to break down and cry, but instead he focused that

energy on trying to regain a job and thus his masculinity.

Within the realm of providing and the stressors of gender identities, includes intimacy

and marriage.

“For her, the realization of her womanhood—a home and family of her own. For him,

the fulfilment of his manhood—a wife to care for him, sons to emulate him, and

daughters to adore him. For both, an end. to separateness, to loneliness.” (Silva)

This quote explains the previous, or stereotypical notion of marriage and family, thus upon us

by societal norms of how men and women think. While this is an idealised notion of marriage

and family, it creates problems within the mental health of individuals, because of modern
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cultural shifts Getting married and having children is no longer the forefront of marks the

milestones of adulthood, for men or women. In fact, 95% of Americans consider education,

employment, etc. (Silva) Statistics show that young men and women are waiting longer to get

married, with 46% of men marrying by the age of thirty and 31% for men. (Silva) The reason

for this could be that younger people are just getting married younger, but there is a much

deeper reasoning behind this. Women want to be equals to men, and not feel as though they

are trapped, or “haunted by the meanings of traditional adulthood.” (Silva) For women, this

creates a therapeutic ‘self’ attitude, where the individual can assert his or her true self,

without external obligations, such as religious beliefs or social constructs.

While this new construct of marriage is based on more equality, it is also quite fragile.

New shifts in marital roles, create tension for both men and women, in distinguishing these

roles. Concerns about money, housework, and children arise.

Gender affects mental health in ways that we don’t even consider when going about

our everyday lives. The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear

Perfect at Any Cost, focuses how social media, specifically selfies, highlight the difference in

gender norms, in terms of their effects on mental health. The Donna Freitas book, interviews

various college students, in fact, an overwhelming “85% of students who replied to this

question” (Freitas) for this survey agreed that social media was more of a “woman’s world.”

In a book that discussed the correlation between mental health, and feeling the need to put

your best foot forward, women were seen as being more emotionally forward in their

responses. Women were more about selfies and other expressive ways of presenting

themselves on social media, while men were more ‘careless’ on social media, posting less

personal posts such as hobbies or sports.


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The students interviewed in The Happiness Effect, felt as though women dealt with

the stereotypes on social media just as much as they did in the outside world, in terms of

unfair judgements. Selfie culture, directly equates to the mental health of women, in terms

of the same pressures they experience in the ‘real’ world, in terms of sexism, body image and

personal image. The book discusses that:

“College students feel pressured to maintain a presence on social media, yet because

social media is ‘for girls’ and those girls can be oh-so-annoying when the post too

much, women have to be especially careful about how they post.” (Freitas)

Women who are slated as being more emotional creatures, but in the modern day must live

up to the same level of professionalism as men, but they must look good doing it. There is a

fine line women must walk, as women are “expected to offer up their images not only for

viewing but also for evaluation.” (Freitas) According to the text, women face a deeper scrutiny

than men and feel the same stressors as they do, but with the added need to present

themselves adequately online, to avoid the stereotype of being overly emotional or less than

perfect.

The book Deployed by Michael C. Musheno, didn’t dive deeply into gender-related

causes when it came to mental health and deployed reservists, and maybe that’s because

women only made up about 10% of the 893rd Company participants, and 24% of the 2004

reserve graphics. (Musheno) This text focused on mostly men because of these numbers, but

mostly referred to reservist in terms of two groups, but instead focusing on two categories of

reservists, adaptive and struggling. Some struggling reservists in this text found deployment

difficult for many reasons, but the one that stands out in terms of relevance to this paper is

the lack of support troops felt from home. The expectations, which the text refers to as both
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unmet and unrealistic, caused feelings of anger and disappointment among the reservists.

These feelings were particularly felt towards wives and girlfriends, as is the case with one

interviewed soldier who blamed his wife’s lack of support in terms of sending letter or care

packages more often as the basis for his marital problems post-deployment.

Reading about this particular type of resentment and the emotional stress it caused

the reservists to not receive tangible items of support, raises wonder about the women who

face the same kind of deployment. While this particular reservist, expressed anger and iciness

towards his wife, the question poses how do women respond and react to this kind of mental

stress? Is it similar to how women are stereotypically seen to handle their stressors, with

anxiety and depression? Or is it similar to modern views of female mental health, such as in

The Happiness Effect where women feel the stress to not come across overly emotional, but

double by the mindset that soldiers should be strong and follow the “Let’s accept this and get

over it” (Musheno) way of thinking? Even better, why did the male react in the way that he

did? Is it because men are less likely to seek help for mental distress, and this was a result of

help-seeking avoidance, as “men’s psychological well-being has an impact on women and

children, who are often deeply affected by the positive and negative actions of their fathers,

brothers, friends, husbands, and lovers” (Wendt and Shafer).

To conclude, the stigma against expressing feelings has a huge impact on mental

health and the way people cope with that health. The stereotypes surrounding both men and

women vary in terms of seeking treatment and adding pressure which is the causation of

many mental health issues. While it is considered socially acceptable to express mental health

issues, because it is stereotypical for women to be more emotional, thus be more emotionally

and mentally ‘unstable’, women feel psychological tension in the sense that they want to be
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considered equal with their male counterparts and therefore do not want to play into

stereotypes. The reverse is for men, who thanks to society, feel as though in order to be manly

or strong, they must suppress emotions. Therefore, men typically do not receive the help they

need in terms of their mental and emotional health, which causes unhealthy outbursts.