A new study finds that many mental disorders and illnesses appear to be influenced by gender, or more specifically, the ability to internalize or externalize emotions.
In the study, researchers looked at the prevalence or frequency of common forms of mental illness among men and women.
They discovered women with anxiety disorders are more likely to internalize emotions, which typically results in withdrawal, loneliness and depression.
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to externalize emotions, which leads to aggressive, impulsive, coercive and noncompliant behavior, according to the study.
The study is published online in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Investigators analyzed survey data from 43,093 U.S. residents collected during 2001-2002. The sample was representative of the age, race/ethnicity and gender distributions of the U.S. population in the 2000 Census.
From the data, researchers examined participants’ lifetime mental health history as well as their history over the prior 12 months.
The authors cited previous research that found women suffer more than men from depression, because “women ruminate more frequently than men, focusing repetitively on their negative emotions and problems rather than engaging in more active problem solving.”
“In women, treatment might focus on coping and cognitive skills to help prevent rumination from developing into clinically significant depression or anxiety,” said lead author Nicholas R. Eaton, MA, of the University of Minnesota.
“In men, treatment for impulsive behaviors might focus on rewarding planned actions and shaping aggressive tendencies into non-destructive behavior.”
According to researchers, prior studies have found that women report more neuroticism and more frequent stressful life events than men do before the onset of a disorder — indicating that environmental stressors may also contribute to internalization.
Although the formulative factors that lead to the disorder may be debatable, experts believe the findings support gender-focused prevention and treatment efforts.