3.1 Gender and young people's mental health
The discussion of eating disorders and schooling in Section 2 suggested that gendered relations of power, both in an institution such as a secondary school and in society at large, could contribute to the development of health problems for some groups of young people. The article by Evans et al. (2004) presented young people's wellbeing as strongly gendered, in that instance to the disadvantage of young women.
There is evidence that young women suffer disproportionately not only from anorexia and other eating disorders, but also from a range of mental health problems. Van Droogenbroeck et al. (2018) holds that there should be a ‘gender sensitive approach’ taken to mental health policies, promotion, and prevention programs due to the gender differences evident. Based on research evidence, the Health Development Agency (HDA) suggests that young women are twice as likely to suffer from a depressive illness as young men, even though most recent media coverage and policy concern has focused on the increase in depression among young men.
Deliberate self-harm is four times more common in women than men, and much more common among younger than older adults. The HDA concludes that, in general, more young women than young men experience mental health ‘disorders’, although it acknowledges that the statistical differences are not enormous and may depend to some extent on how a ‘disorder’ is defined.
However, young men are disproportionately represented in the reporting of certain mental health problems. They are three times more likely to be dependent on alcohol or drugs than young women, and what is termed ‘conduct disorder’ (persistent bad behaviour) is twice as common among young men, with those who are in prison, homeless or unemployed being particularly vulnerable.
Much recent attention has focused on the apparent rise in suicide among young men. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the figures for suicide in the population have been going down in recent years. However, whilst the period since the 1980s has seen a decline in suicide among women generally, there has been a rise among men, with a significant increase in the 15–44 age group (ONS, 2018).
Activity 5 Gender and the risk of suicide
Why do you think rates of suicide might now be higher among young men than young women? Make a list of any possible reasons that occur to you.
According to the HDA: ‘Surprisingly little has been written about maleness in relation to the incidence of suicide among young men’ (HDA, 2001, p. 39). However, some explanations have been advanced by researchers, and the range of arguments offered are surveyed in the next section.