Women with chronic physical illnesses are 10% more likely to seek support for mental health issues than men with similar illnesses, according to a new study.
The study from St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Science also found that women tend to seek out mental health services months earlier than men. Researchers looked at people diagnosed with at least one of four illnesses: diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Of people diagnosed with these conditions, women were not only more likely than men to seek mental health services, but they also used medical services for mental health treatment six months earlier than men in any three-year period.
For the purposes of the study, “mental health services” were defined as one visit to a physician or specialist for mental health reasons, such as depression, anxiety, smoking addiction or marital difficulties.
“Our results don’t necessarily mean that more focus should be paid to women, however,” study author Flora Matheson, a scientist in the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, said. “We still need more research to understand why this gender divide exists.”
The findings, published in the British Medical Journal’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, could suggest various conclusions about the way that different sexes use mental health services. It may mean that women feel more comfortable seeking mental health support than men or that men delay seeking support. The study could also imply that symptoms are worse among women, which would encourage more women to seek help and to do so sooner.
“Chronic physical illness can lead to depression,” Matheson said. “We want to better understand who will seek mental health services when diagnosed with a chronic physical illness so we can best help those who need care.”