The gender gap in mental health service use

E Pattyn, M Verhaeghe, P Bracke
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2015, 50 (7): 1089-95

PURPOSE: This study examines why men engage less in mental health service use, by studying how gender is performed in interactions, following the doing gender perspective. We hypothesize that seeking help for mental illness may constitute a gendered role conflict among men since help seeking is associated with femininity. Therefore, we expect that men will recommend reliance on self-care options to other men, and in cases in which professional treatment is recommended, they will prefer medication to psychotherapy. We also expect that men will report greater stigmatizing attitudes.

METHODS: The survey Stigma in a Global Context-Belgian Mental Health Study (2009) conducted interviews of a representative sample of the Belgian general population (N = 743). The vignette technique, depicting depressive and schizophrenic symptoms, was used. Multiple linear and logistic models were estimated in SPSS.

RESULTS: In male vignettes, self-care is more likely to be recommended, both by male and female respondents. Men are less likely to acknowledge the helpfulness of psychotherapy and women rate psychotherapy as less helpful when judging a man compared to a woman. Men rate tranquilizers as more helpful for other males than that women do for other females. Furthermore, male respondents seem to ascribe more shame and blame to the situation.

CONCLUSIONS: The gender gap in mental health service use is due not only to men and their negative attitudes toward help seeking, but also to structured social norms that are reconstructed in interactions. Women also contribute to the maintenance of masculinity norms.

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