Gender and emotional expression: need for a new focus?

Lauren Ward

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaper

Abstract

Over the last decade there has been a theoretical shift towards acknowledging and understanding the importance of social and cultural factors that contribute to Mental Health Issues. One particular social and cultural factor; gender, has been argued to be a ‘critical issue’ with regards to our mental health, and one that requires ‘gender responsive’ interventions (WHO, 2011,p.1). Research documents clear gender differences in mental health issues, particularly after the age of 13 years, with girls reported to have more mental health issues than boys on average (Myrin and Lagerstrom, 2008). Depression and anxiety related disorders are said to be twice as common among girls (Hankin et al, 1998), whilst boy report higher substance abuse related disorders (Seedat et al, 2009). Several explanations will be explored for these gender differences, such as the ‘Gender Roles Hypothesis’. Based on this view, our culturally specific gender expectations (e.g. being a ‘masculine male’ or a ‘feminine female’ ) moderates our thoughts, feelings and behaviour(s). Using this hypothesis, researchers have speculated as to why the clear gender differences in incidence of mental health issues. For example, research documents that boys are ’socialised to seek less help from all sources’ (including professional) for emotional issues from early adolescence (Rickwood et al, 2005, p.7). Using these findings, as this masculine construction is not considered consistent with seeking help for emotional issues, boys are suggested to be less likely to be diagnosed (and thus effectively treated) with a mental health issue. Based on the authors readings and research around gender and mental health a ‘new focus’ will be proposed using our understandings of gender roles; could it be, that more attention needs to be paid to the differences in emotional expression, as opposed to the prevalence of disorders, to understanding and intervening with mental Health issues?

Keywords

  • Gender
  • mental health
  • emotions
  • children
  • adolescence
  • masculinity
  • femininity

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