One of the biggest challenges in the United States is removing the stigma associated with mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are almost 44 million Americans (around 1 in 5 people) who struggle with a mental health disorder. That means that there is a high possibility that nearly everyone knows someone who lives with anxiety, depression or another mental health condition.
Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Disorders
84% of survey respondents believed that there is a stigma regarding mental illness.
Depression is a common mental illness that can affect anyone, from successful business people to celebrities and athletes to middle-class citizens. Many people also carry the burden of anxiety, bipolar or post-traumatic stress disorder. These internal problems, if untreated, can lead to self-medicating through substance misuse. Likewise, some people develop mental health disorders from having an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Despite how common these disorders are, there is a prevalent stigma that exists within our culture. Only in recent years has the general public urged people suffering from these issues to be comfortable speaking about their experiences. Even still, many individuals stay silent in hopes that they can persevere on their own, possibly due to embarrassment or from fear of rejection by friends or family.
Additionally, there are those who do not believe that stigma regarding mental health exists. There also is a belief that addiction and mental health issues are not connected, despite scientific evidence showing otherwise. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around half of people with a mental health disorder are also affected by a substance use disorder, and more than half of people who misuse drugs also have a mental illness.
The Recovery Village surveyed 400 people from different backgrounds and life experiences to learn more about their thoughts regarding a number of topics related to mental wellness and substance misuse. The answers revealed a significant disparity between men and women in how they view addiction, mental health disorders and more.
The Differences in How Each Gender Views Mental Illness
When asked whether a connection existed between mental illness and substance use disorders, 59% of people in the survey agreed that there is a link between the two. However, 51% of males said the connection is real, while nearly 64% of females believed the same.
Around 84% of survey respondents believed that stigma regarding mental illness persists. However, those numbers change slightly when only looking at responses from either males or females:
- Nearly 90% of the 241 females who took the survey believed a stigma exists
- Only 77% of the 159 males questioned believed that the stigma surrounding mental health disorders is real
While not a large gap, these answers do show that there is a different mentality in each gender for mental wellness. That might be in part because more females than males suffer from mental health disorders. According to Mental Health America, twice as many women than men have depression. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that anxiety disorders are also more prevalent in females, as women between puberty and 50 years old are twice as likely as men to live with the condition.
Why are women more at risk of mental illnesses? There are multiple biological and social reasons, including experiences with the menstrual cycle, gender roles and unequal pay in the workforce, postpartum depression and infertility. A female’s brain also does not process serotonin as quickly as a male’s brain and women are more susceptible to low levels of corticotropin-releasing factor, which is a stress-reducing chemical.
Why Mental Health Stigma Can Be a Roadblock For Males
Rather than answering why females believe a mental health stigma exists, maybe asking the opposite question is better: Why do fewer men than women believe in the existence of this negative perception of mental illness?
The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention reports that males account for three and a half times as many suicides as females. Men are less likely to admit to their depression and more likely to believe in ways of solving their mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Health lists five myths that permeate among males in regards to depression:
- Depression equals weakness
- Men should be able to control their emotions
- Asking for help shows a lack of masculinity
- Talking about a mental illness won’t do any good
- Opening up about these internal struggles is a burden for other people
In short, gender roles have had a negative effect on how males approach the topic of mental wellness. Many of them believe that physical strength and emotional strength are connected and thus an “unbreakable” aura must always be present, even above internal struggles. The ideas of “being a man” and “manning up” can deter males from opening up about their depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses.
The Recovery Village strives to raise awareness about mental health disorders and help people cope with these illnesses rather than ignore them. In many cases, addiction and mental illnesses are connected and have a cause-and-effect relationship. With a network of rehabilitation facilities dedicated to helping people overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol, additional resources include treatment for co-occurring disorders such as depression and anxiety. A call to The Recovery Village puts you in touch with a representative who can answer your questions about substance misuse and co-occurring mental health disorders.