- History provides important context for how we understand and treat modern day mental health conditions, like anxiety.
- Biological sex, socialized gender expectations, and our own lived experience in gendered bodies play a role in how anxiety disorders are researched and studied.
- Anxiety is experienced by all humans, regardless of sex, gender or other social identities.
*Parts of this blog post will reflect a man/woman gender binary: however, we recognize that this representation of gender is incomplete, as there are many folks that identify outside of or within this binary.*
March is Women’s History month, and to honor that, this blog post will be dedicated to discussing and understanding some gendered myths around anxiety disorders. There are many types of anxiety disorders, some of the most common being Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and research shows that from the age of puberty to age 50, women are twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders.
This statistic indicates that women are more likely to receive a diagnosis and/or treatment for an anxiety disorder, but it does not necessarily mean that men are not experiencing anxiety disorders at half the rate that women are. In 2019, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) collected data on clients who seek mental health care. They found that one in four women (24.7%) of women seek mental health care services, compared to only 13.4% of men.
Essentially, women are nearly 50% more likely to seek mental health services than men and women have a higher diagnostic rate for anxiety disorders – there seems to be a correlation.
There are many reasons for the disparity in those seeking mental health care, and a significant and relevant one is gender identity and the gendered stereotypes associated. Are you familiar with the archetypal scene in Romcoms where a (typically) heterosexual couple is driving and clearly lost? Which person in the couple is typically on the side of asking for help? The woman.
Stereotypes are certainly flawed and incomplete pictures of individuals and groups, but they become stereotypes through some level of truth. Generally, men are expected to stay stoic and stable, while women might be expected to exhibit emotional fluctuation and range. Asking for help when you are experiencing anxiety disorder symptoms (perpetual worrying, fatigue, feelings of inadequacy, low self worth) is challenging for anyone, but challenging in a different way for cisgender men because it asks them to be vulnerable about their feelings, experiences, and relationships in ways that might feel oppositional to social expectations of cisgender men in other settings.
As always, it helps to ask questions like: why am I feeling anxious? What is the context? What factors in my life are contributing to feeling this way? Are some of them internal, are some social? How does my gender affect how I feel in the world? Mental health is a universal need, but is experienced very individually.
Asking for directions on a road trip and asking for help from a trained medical professional are clearly different, but both necessitate a level of vulnerability and trust that can be hard for anyone to access. Gender stereotypes and expectations influence how anxiety disorders are considered at the social and institutional level, but do not predict who can experience anxiety at the individual level. Anyone of any gender identity or expression can experience anxiety.
If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, we hope that you’ll consider Start My Wellness on your mental health journey. We seek to match potential clients with clinicians that will meet their needs and make them feel safe to be vulnerable and open.
Author: Rachel Levy, LLMSW
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*This blog was created with the help of Anton Babushkin
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