Individuals with mental disorders are poorly understood by the general public and often seen as violent or incompetent. People may also assume that mental health conditions are character defects rather than illnesses. Now a study suggests that people may have differing views of men and women with the same mental health condition.

Researchers conducted an online survey of 172 adults. Participants were asked to read case studies, then express their reactions to the subject. The case studies focused on alcoholism and depression, each personified by both a man and a woman.

The study results showed that participants expressed more annoyance, disgust, or anger and less sympathy toward the male alcoholic than the female alcoholic; the opposite was true for the male and female with depression.

In general, alcohol abuse is thought to be more common in men and major depression more common in women. When a person's mental condition does not fit the expected stereotype, people may be more understanding and more likely to think of the problem as a disease rather than a weakness.

Future research should investigate whether these beliefs are also held by mental health professionals as well as people with mental disorders.

Source: Psychological Science Volume 20, page 169 February 2009

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 16 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 14 Nov 2013