Researchers from OPIK, Social Determinants of Health and Demographic Change, have found that women are more frequently diagnosed with depression and anxiety than men. Further, the study showed that the taking of prescribed psychotropic drugs is significantly higher in women, even if there is no difference with men in mental health equality, diagnoses, and frequency of visits to health care centers.

Although the study leads to the existence of a medicalization process of mental health in women as the reason, the origin is complicated, according to the researchers. The processes involving the high prevalence of diagnosis and over prescription undoubtedly play a role, but it is possible that the infra-diagnosis and lower prescription rates in men could be a factor, according to the study authors.

Previous studies from OPIK have found that gender is a significant determining factor in mental health and how it is managed by health care services. Further, the analysis of the Basque Autonomous Community, Spain, and the Spanish sample corresponding to the European Health Survey showed higher prevalence of poor mental health among women of all ages and across all social groups. Additionally, there is a multiplier effect due to the accumulation of experiences of inequality.

The researchers highlighted the fact that reducing gender inequalities in mental health should be the result of policy intervention on various levels.

"There is a clear relationship between the degree of gender inequality in society and gender inequalities in mental health," said study investigator Amaia Bacigalupe, PhD, in a press release. "So all those policies designed to combat the discrimination endured by women on the labor market, in the responsibility for domestic and care work, in the use of time and, generally, relating to those that empower women on the basis of their greater political representation and making them more socially visible, will exert a positive effect on the reduction in mental inequalities between men and women."

The study also highlighted the need to make commitments starting from an institutional level and geared toward curbing the medicalization of everyday illness from a clear gender perspective.

"In the field of mental health in which the medicalization of malaise is especially common, far from addressing the cause of the problem, some problems of a social origin end up receiving psychiatric or psychological treatment," Bacigalupe said in a press release.

The findings suggest that it would be necessary to encourage spaces for reflection in the clinical setting designed to help collectively deconstruct certain aspects that have become natural in gender binarism and that have underpinned the definitions of psychopathology and its current treatment, the study authors concluded.

"The actual incorporation into clinical practice of the biopsychosocial model, as well as the implementing of strategies to promote health and emotional well-being from a community health approach based on assets, could prevent the over-pathologization and over-medicalization of everyday malaise once a global view of how the social context influences health is acquired,” Bacigalupe added.

Depression and anxiety are more frequently diagnosed in women. EurekAlert! Published November 3, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.