There are many elements that can play into whether or not a person will suffer from mental-health problems such as depression. Genetics and environment have long been known to be major contributors. Now, scientists are looking at the role that gender plays in this illness, how it contributes to the way it is treated, and how the public reacts.
According to a recent Science Daily release, it is assumed that women are much more likely to be caricatured as depressed than men. As depression is considered to be a stereotype of mental illness, psychologists James Wirth of Purdue and Galen Bodenhausen of Northwestern set out to determine if stereotypes play into the public’s reaction to those with mental-health problems.
The two created two fictitious characters, Karen and Brian, for a national survey. Karen showed all the classic symptoms of major depression, while Brian was the stereotypical alcoholic. In some cases, the two roles were switched.
When participants read about these people, they expressed much more anger and disgust—and less sympathy—for Brian the alcoholic than for Karen the alcoholic. These participants were also much more willing to help either Brian or Karen when they suffered from an atypical disorder.
All of the participants were much more likely to view Brian’s depression and Karen’s alcoholism (when presented as such) as genuine biological disorders instead of character defects or matters of personal irresponsibility. In other words, even if a male experiences problems with alcohol that are born out of depression, he will not be viewed as someone suffering a debilitating problem.
The results of this study highlight how stereotypes play into the way in which people are treated when they are suffering from a mental illness. When it is combined with substance abuse, the sympathy is much more lacking, even though it may be much more needed.