“Women are sicker; men die quicker.” This familiar quotation suggests that there are gender-related differences related to health. For purposes of this Application, gender-related issues are grouped in three categories: 1) morbidity and mortality rates, 2) health-related behaviors, and 3) treatment by gender by the health care system.
A quick review of health statistics shows that the morbidity (sickness) and mortality (death) rates for specific diseases and other health issues (e.g., violence, mental health problems, homicide) are different for men and women. For example, men are diagnosed with and die from specific cancers (such as, lung cancer and colon cancer) at a higher rate than women. Women are diagnosed with breast cancer at higher rates than men (though more than 2,600 men each year are diagnosed with breast cancer.) When looking at mental health problems, antisocial and avoidant behaviors are more common in men, while borderline disorder, histrionic disorder, and depression are more often seen in women. While this difference in disease and disorder prevalence and mortality is interesting, it would be useful to know why there are differences between men and women.
Another area to consider when looking at health and gender is behavior. That is, do men and women behave differently when it comes to health? And what about the “behavior” of the health care system when it comes to gender. Does it treat men and women differently?
Health-related behaviors fall into two basic categories: preventative behaviors and direct health-related behaviors. For example, seeing a physician for an annual check-up and health screening, eating well, exercising, and maintaining low stress levels are preventative behaviors. Engaging in high risk sports and other activities, smoking, working in a dangerous job, and the like are direct health-related behaviors. The reality is that men and women behave differently when it comes to health.
A third health-related factor that may come into play when questioning the gender differences in health issues is how the health care system treats men and women. For example, men and women are screened differently, diagnosed differently, and treated differently for many health problems. There may also be gender bias in the diagnostic tools used for mental health disorders.
To fully understand the gender-related differences in physical and mental health, it is useful to analyze a specific health issue in depth. What are the differences, why are there differences, and what is the impact of these differences? These are common questions in the area of psychology of gender.
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