It’s no secret that mental health is an issue in our society. One statistic that may surprise you, though, is the massive disparity in prescription medication use between men and women. In fact, one in four women used mental health drugs of some kind in the period between 2001 and 2010. Drug use is also increasing rapidly for both genders, but more so for women. Anti-depressant use amongst women has shot up 29 percent since 2001.
But it’s the gender disparity that is most interesting and perhaps of most concern. What about anti-anxiety medications? They are used by women at twice the rate of men. Perhaps this is because our culture tends to demand that men “soldier on,” and men, as a result, seek medical assistance less often than women.
It’s also possible that at least some major mood disorders are genuinely more common in females. Women, for example, are statistically more likely to suffer from borderline personality disorder and may be more likely to become depressed.
One theory is that women are more likely to suffer from short-term stressors. Society tends to expect women to bear the brunt of child rearing and often work a full-time or more than full time job on top of it. Anti-anxiety medications are fast acting and often prescribed for short-term use when dealing with marital discord, job loss or bereavement.
Women are more likely to suffer from borderline personality disorder.
Is this really a problem, though? Perhaps it is. It’s certainly telling that women are being prescribed more ‘happy pills’, be they anti-anxiety, anti-depressant or atypical psychotics (increasingly prescribed for major depression). It may say that women are more likely to shut up and take a pill rather than protest when their psychiatrist prescribed medication rather than some alternative therapy. It may be biological.
But one in four is a ridiculously high number. These drugs are not without risk. Is it a coincidence that women are also more likely to abuse prescription medication – perhaps the very same anti-anxiety drugs their doctor gave them to help them get over last year’s stress? Although it is more likely that amphetamines or opioids are abused, sedatives are also high on the list of commonly abused drugs.
On top of that, recent research has shown that for mild to moderate depression anti-depressants are not helpful and may, in fact, be harmful. Many of these drugs have unpleasant side effects that can last even after the woman stops taking them. One common anti-depressant, for example, has been associated with permanent, significant weight gain. It might be that women are being prescribed medication they don’t need and their tendency not to argue with their doctors is making them ‘victims’ of the tendency to want to solve everything with a pill.
This tendency is a problem in our society. Because psychiatric medications seem to work fast and solve the problem easily, without anyone having to work hard, they tend to be over-prescribed. Drug companies are also trying to make a profit and will often advertise these drugs directly to potential users rather than simply to doctors and psychiatrists. Because of this, the value of alternative treatments such as talk therapy or lifestyle changes tends to be neglected. For example, women who suffer from mild depression often get better long-term results from thirty minutes of exercise a day than from medication. For short-term stressors, a good counselor is the best way to go.
It is possible, however, that the true root cause of the gender disparity goes back to the very same reason that women suffer more from short-term stressors. Our society places a burden on married women with children that is often unfair. They are expected to be the one who does the bulk of the parenting but can seldom afford to stop working to do so. Because of this, women often have less free time than men. When you are trapped in the cycle of get up, go to work, come home, care for the kids, go to bed, repeat, where is the time for thirty minutes of exercise a day? Or for weekly counseling sessions?
An hour or two of “me time” could be enough to prevent the development of anxiety or depression in the first place.
Are women going to their doctors when they become stressed and begging to just be given a pill to make them feel better because they don’t have time for a better, more natural treatment? Is the guilt we tend to heap on working mothers making them unwilling to make the time because it is for them, not their children?
In other words, are women taking more psychiatric medications than men not because they need them more but because they don’t have time to either prevent mental illness or fix it by any other means? If this is true, then the answer lies in society’s expectations. Perhaps a good counselor could convince these women that they are allowed to get off the treadmill, let their hair down and devote some time to themselves and their own needs. An hour or two of “me time” could be enough to prevent the development of anxiety or depression in the first place.
Regardless of the cause, the issue is a real one. The more we learn about mental health, the less smart it seems to rely on pills as a quick fix solution. Despite this, more and more women are doing just that.