The Gender Gap in Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders: A Social Justice Perspective

The gender gap in mental health and substance use disorders remains one of the most under-discussed yet pressing issues in public health. From how symptoms manifest to treatment strategies, gender differences are pervasive and can have significant implications. Addressing this gap is essential for ensuring better health outcomes and advancing social justice and equity.

Depression and Anxiety Hit Women Harder

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, women are nearly twice as likely to develop depression and 2-3 times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder compared to men. There are several possible reasons for this:

  • Hormonal factors related to menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause may increase women’s risk.
  • Women face unique stressors related to social expectations, discrimination, income inequality, caregiving responsibilities, and experiences of violence and trauma.
  • Women may be more willing to seek help and get diagnosed with mental health conditions compared to men.

Whatever the reasons, depression and anxiety disproportionately impact women starting in adolescence, representing a significant public health issue.

Men Suffer More Frequent Substance Abuse and Suicide

While women have higher rates of internalizing disorders like depression and anxiety, men experience more externalizing disorders like substance abuse and antisocial behaviors. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), men have significantly higher rates of substance use disorders for all major drug categories. Men are also 3-5 times more likely to die by suicide than women.

These troubling statistics may be linked to socialization discouraging men from expressing emotions or seeking help. Men also use substances to cope with stress or trauma at higher rates. More open dialogue around men’s mental health is critically needed to address these gaps.

Intersectionality Matters

Within genders, disparities in mental health exist in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income level, and disability status. For example, research shows lesbian and bisexual women have higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to heterosexual women. Transgender individuals are also more likely to experience mental illness than cisgender men and women. An intersectional social justice approach is needed to understand how multiple marginalized identities overlap to impact mental health.

Count on RADIAS Health

The gender gap in mental health and substance use disorder is more than a health disparity; it’s a pressing social justice issue. Acknowledging and addressing these differences is crucial for a more equitable and just society.

RADIAS Health provides person-centered integrated healthcare services to people experiencing mental illness, substance use, or co-occurring disorders. Compassionate, skilled health care and support staff deliver our behavioral health services. In addition, our care includes supplementary services such as case management, supportive housing, homeless services, residential services, outpatient DBT treatment, and more.

If you or someone you know could benefit from our mission, contact us today or consider donating!