A new study reveals the impact on women’s mental health.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a truly remarkable Supreme Court justice and strong voice for righting gender discrimination in key cases, recognized this phenomenon: “All I can say is I am sensitive to discrimination on any basis, as I have experienced that upset.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges that health outcomes for people who have been treated with inequity are unequal. In a recent study, the mental health impact of gender discrimination finds a higher rate of depression for women who recognize they are being discriminated against.
The Lancet Series on “gender equality, norms and health” highlighted the adverse effects of gender inequality on women. The definition of “discrimination” here refers to the unfair treatment received by those belonging to a subordinated social group that has been formed in the struggle to preserve power and privilege by the dominant group.
The introduction of The Lancet study states that, “Gender discrimination manifests in a variety of ways, such as gender-biased interpersonal behavior; unfair institutional policies; structural barriers to education and opportunities in professional, financial, and political realms; inequitable treatment within family, on the job, and in interactions with institutions; as well as micro-aggressions, sexual objectification, sexist language, and assumptions of intellectual and physical inferiority of women.”
In their cohort study addressing gender discrimination and depressive symptoms among childbearing women, the researchers discovered to their surprise that discrimination based on gender had not been examined before in a population-based sample. Their findings “provide the first evidence that perceived gender discrimination is associated with depressive symptoms among child-bearing women” (The Lancet, March 2020). The study argues that perceived gender discrimination, as a stressor is more harmful for the victim because it’s outside their control and it is connected to a less valued and unchangeable social identity.
The Gender Gap in Depression
WHO states that the overall rates of psychiatric disorder are almost identical for men and women but dramatic gender differences are found in the patterns of mental illness. According to The Lancet study among others, depression is twice as likely to be experienced by women than men. Although mood changes and depressed feelings occur with hormonal changes, that alone does not cause depression. Personal life circumstances and experiences have been identified with a higher rate of depression for women occurring at any age (Mayo Clinic).
Many factors that impact women to a greater extent than men have been identified as increasing the risk of depression in women. These conditions include unequal power and status, psychological stress, sexual violence, and domestic violence.