Mentally Ill Often Stereotyped According To Gender

According to a new study, the mentally ill receive less sympathy when suffering from a disorder considered "typical" to their gender, such as alcoholism (men) or depression (women).

In addition to the difficulty of actually having a psychological disorder, the mentally ill have to deal with how other people stigmatize them, from employers who won't hire them, to friends and family who don't believe their ailments to be real, to health insurance companies that won't cover treatment. People usually divide the mentally ill into those that are violent and dangerous or weak and incompetent, and fear or disdain them accordingly.

In the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers set out to see if gender stereotypes about certain disorders influence how we view the mentally ill, reports EurekAlert. Two Northwestern University psychologists conducted a study in which volunteers from around the country were given the case history of a person with mentally illness. Some read the history of Brian, a man with all the typical symptoms of alcoholism, and others read about Karen, who had a classic case of major depression. For some of the patients, Karen and Brian's names were switched in the reports, so that she was the alcoholic and he was the depressed one.

Researchers found that the subjects expressed more disgust and anger, and less sympathy, toward Brian and Karen after reading their real reports, in which they had the disorder associated with their gender. When the patients acted "out of character," with a depressed Brian and an alcoholic karen, the volunteers said they were more willing to help them and were more likely to see their illness as a genuine biological disorder, instead of just a character flaw. Knowing that gender does play a role in how society treats the mentally ill, researchers say that there should be a campaign to challenge stereotypes about the association of gender with certain disorders.

[Image via Exploding Dog.]

His And Hers: Study Examines The Role Of Gender In The Stigma Of Mental Illness [EurekAlert]