Are Women More Frequently Diagnosed With Anxiety and Depression?

November 9, 2020
Leah Kuntz

A study in Spain uncovers the hard truth about gender inequality in mental health care.

A recent study1 by the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) confirmed that gender is a significant determining factor in mental health and its management.

The university’s research group OPIK, Social Determinants of Health and Demographic Change, a multidisciplinary group comprising research personnel in the field of social and health sciences, discovered that not only are women more likely to receive diagnoses, they are also more likely to be prescribed medications.

“Women are more frequently diagnosed with depression and anxiety and the taking of prescribed psychotropic drugs is also significantly higher, even if there is no difference with men with respect to mental health equality, diagnoses, and frequency of visits to healthcare centers. All this could point to the existence of a medicalization process of mental health in women,” Amaia Bacigalupe, PhD, one of the authors, said to the press.2

Data from the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) pulled from 3 locations—Basque Autonomous Community (2018), Spain (2017), and the Spanish sample corresponding to the European Health Survey (2014)—were used to determine that there is a higher prevalence of mental health issues in women of all ages and social status. In 2017, the prevalence of poor mental health was approximately 23.4% in women and 15.6% in men. The frequency of diagnoses of depression or anxiety was also much higher in women, with 19.4% in women and 8.5% in men.

According to the data, there is also clear intersectionality on the different axes of inequality: gender inequalities in mental health tend to increase among the population of older age, lower social class, and lower educational level. Data consistently pointed out that mental health tended to worsen as living conditions did, with factors such as suffering from insufficient income, low educational level, manual social class, unemployment, or lack of social support as contributing factors.

Bacigalupe stated to press that policy intervention may be a cure for this gender gap: “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.”2

The researchers concluded that further studies are needed to gauge whether this is an over-medicalization process of women, or oppositely an underdiagnosis of men.

References

1. Bacigalupe A, Cabezas A, Bueno MB, Martín U. El género como determinante de la salud mental y su medicalización. Informe SESPAS 2020. ScienceDirect. 2020;34(1):61-67. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0213911120301813?via%3Dihub

2. University of the Basque Country. Depression and anxiety are more frequently diagnosed in women. News release. November 4, 2020. https://www.newswise.com/articles/depression-and-anxiety-are-more-frequently-diagnosed-in-women