Are women more likely to become mentally ill, as statistics seem to suggest? Is it due to social pressures or biology? Maybe women just get diagnosed with mental illness more often than men due to healthcare providers’ perceptions of women’s concerns. Or are the statistics reflecting a gender-gap in self-perception, i.e. women may be more likely to perceived their own thoughts and feelings as abnormal or unhealthy and report them to professionals? Is there a connection between this statistic and the gender disparity in prisons? All of these question are worthwhile and should be addressed.

Ideas

Who is more likely to develop a mental illness: men or women? For the Victorians there was no doubt. After a visit to London’s St Luke’s Hospital for the Insane in 1851, Charles Dickens wrote:

The experience of this asylum did not differ, I found, from that of similar establishments, in proving that insanity is more prevalent among women than among men. Of the eighteen thousand seven hundred and fifty-nine inmates St Luke’s Hospital has received in the century of its existence, eleven thousand one hundred and sixty-two have been women.

But the Victorian view of female mental illness in both clinical and popular literature has long been critiqued for equating men with reason and women with madness, most famously by feminist critic Elaine Showalter, the author of Madwoman in the Attic. Such deeply embedded sexism means that women’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviour are misdiagnosed as insanity. And thus the…

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