Study by the University of Westminster reveals that gender stereotypes influence perceptions of depressed people
Women are more likely to be identified as having symptoms of depression and mental health disorders than men, according to research by Dr Viren Swami at the University of Westminster.
The study surveyed over 1,200 adults who were asked to recognise depression in male and female characters represented in a vignette. It showed that the ability to correctly identify signs of depression depended on the gender of both the identifier and the person who was suffering from depression, as well as individual psychological differences such as attitudes toward psychiatry.
Both male and female respondents were more likely to indicate that a male character represented on the vigentte was not suffering from a mental health disorder compared to a female. Women were more likely than men to indicate that the male character suffered from a mental health disorder. Moreover, attitudes toward those with depression were associated with respondents’ attitudes toward seeking psychological help, psychiatric skepticism, and anti-scientific attitudes.
Dr Viren Swami said: “The results of this research are significant for initiatives aimed at enhancing mental health literacy, which should consider the impact of gender stereotypes and attitudes towards help-seeking behaviors. I am confident that this study will open up new possibilities to look into the issues of depression and mental health disorders further and also stir people’s attention towards these sensitive subjects.”
Dr Swami presented participants with one of two fictitious characters, Kate and Jack. Both were described in non-clinical terms as having identical symptoms of major depression, the only difference being their suggested gender. Respondents were asked to identify whether the individual described suffered a mental health disorder, and how likely they would be to recommend seeking professional help to the subject in the test.
Both men and women were equally likely to classify Kate as having a mental health disorder, but men were less likely than women to indicate that Jack suffered from depression. Men were also more likely to recommend that Kate seek professional help than women were, but both men and women were equally likely to make this suggestion for Jack. Respondents, particularly men, rated Kate’s case as significantly more distressing, difficult to treat, and deserving of sympathy than they did Jack’s case.
The researcher also found that individual attitudes towards depression were associated with skepticism about psychiatry and anti-scientific attitudes. According to Dr Swami, their results are significant for designing initiatives which can enhance mental health literacy and consider the impact of gender stereotypes and attitudes towards those suffers seeking help.