Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds

guardian.co.uk Wednesday 22nd May 2013

Women are up to 40% more likely than men to develop mental health conditions, according to new analysis by a clinical psychologist at Oxford University.

The finding, based on analysis of epidemiological studies from the UK, US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has significant consequences for public health, according to Prof Daniel Freeman, who said that as millions of people in the UK alone were affected by mental illness, the consequences of gender disparities were widespread. Mental health campaigners said GPs needed to be aware of such disparities when deciding how to commission resources for treatment and support.

According to Freeman’s study, women are approximately 75% more likely than men to report having recently suffered from depression, and around 60% more likely to report an anxiety disorder.

Men are more likely to report substance misuse disorders – around two and a half times more frequently than women. Conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and schizophrenia did not have statistically significant differences between genders in adults.

Freeman said that because the conditions most affecting women were more common than those affecting men, overall mental health conditions were more common in women than in men, by a factor of 20% to 40%.

The result is based on analysis of 12 large-scale epidemiological studies carried out across the world since the 1990s, for Freeman’s new book The Stressed Sex, published by Oxford University Press. The analysis used only large-scale studies, which looked at the general population, to control for men being less likely to seek help for psychological disorders than women.

However, while pre-set criteria were used to select which studies to include and exclude, the research is not a formal meta-analysis, regarded as the gold standard of evidence.

Freeman said the differences in the types of conditions reported by genders was interesting.

“There is a pattern within – women tend to suffer more from what we call ‘internal’ problems like depression or sleep problems,” he said. “They take out problems on themselves, as it were, where men have externalising problems, where they take things out on their environment, such as alcohol and anger problems.”

He added that there was likely a complex mixture of factors contributing to the differences between the genders – related not only to physiological or biological factors, but society, too.

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