Understanding Advanced Nursing Challenges: Gender Differences in Mental Health

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A nurse works with a mental health patient.

Specific mental health conditions occur at different rates for different genders. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that unipolar depression is twice as common in women as in men and that men are three times more likely than women to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. The alcohol dependence rate is less than half as high for women as for men. Gender differences are also present in patterns of asking for help, according to the WHO.

Nursing professionals who are interested in using specialized skills to address gender differences in mental health will be well served by  education. Pursuing an online post-master’s certificate with a specialization in psychiatric mental health can equip students with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to be successful psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs). As PMHNPs, they can provide primary care to psychiatric mental health patients.

How Mental Illness Affects Men and Women

Mental health disorders affect both men and women, but there are similarities and differences in how each gender struggles with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. For example, data suggests that sex hormones often play a significant role in anxiety disorders. According to a Psychiatric Times article, although adult men experience relatively steady levels of testosterone, post-pubescent females experience “dynamic fluctuations in [estrogen] and progesterone on a monthly basis due to the menstrual cycle,” as well as similar fluctuations throughout their lives due to hormonal contraception, pregnancy, and menopause. The article also explains that the “sex differences in hormone exposure and stability may exacerbate a woman’s risk for anxiety.”

In addition, men and women may be diagnosed differently for mental health conditions. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that while women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with depression, this may be “because men who are depressed may appear to be angry or aggressive instead of sad, and their friends, family, and doctors may not always recognize anger and aggression as symptoms of depression.” Data also suggests that men are less likely to seek treatment for depression, which may skew gender-specific diagnostic statistics.

Gender differences in mental health are also evident in substance abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that men are more likely than women to use almost all types of illegal drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and prescription painkillers, although “women are just as likely as men to develop a substance abuse disorder.” The institute also highlights that “research has shown that women often use drugs differently and respond to drugs differently.”

How Nurses Approach Treatment

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners can provide a wide range of mental health services to men and women of all ages. They’re qualified to work with patients in both inpatient and outpatient settings, establish treatment plans, prescribe medication with varying degrees of physician oversight, and monitor patient progress.

However, even the most experienced PMHNPs may encounter challenges during the treatment process depending on a patient’s gender. For example, advanced practice nurses may find that mothers who lack stable childcare are more likely to skip or cancel appointments. They may also find that men who misuse alcohol or drugs or have increased levels of worry or stress, which is consistent with symptoms of male depression, and are less likely to seek treatment of mental illness.

PMHNPs may also experience challenges in treating patients who are reluctant to adhere to treatment strategies, such as journaling or attending group therapy sessions, regardless of their age, race, or gender. In addition, patients may have other mental health conditions that contribute to an overarching condition.

Essential Skills to Oversee Treatment Strategies

Aspiring nurse practitioners who want to address gender differences in mental health must develop essential skills and competencies. This is a crucial component of excelling in advanced practice nursing, as it will help them analyze patients and build effective treatment strategies for both male and female patients. Students seeking to become PMHNPs through the online post-master’s certificate program at Regis College learn about contemporary psychotherapies and advanced psychopharmacology to treat mental health patients. In addition, students in the program can equip themselves for success by developing the following skills and traits:

  • Active listening skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Compassion
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Empathy

How a Post-Master’s Certificate Can Help

Approximately 1 in 5 U.S. adults struggle with mental illness, and more than ever, the nation’s health care system relies on qualified PMHNPs to diagnose and treat these patients. The unique challenges related to gender differences in mental health come into play when executing this role

Nurses who want to help men and women who suffer from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions are likely to find that specialized training will provide them with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to be successful. Learn more about how Regis College’s online post-master’s certificate program can help students advance in their careers as PMHNPs.

Recommended Reading

What Makes a Good Nurse? Key Skills for an Essential Profession
How Does Nursing Influence Health Care Policy?
The Key Traits of an Educated Nurse


American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses
Houston Chronicle, “What Skills Are Pertinent to Psychiatric Nursing?
Mayo Clinic, “Depression in Women: Understanding the Gender Gap”
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health Facts in America
National Institute of Mental Health, Men and Depression
National Institute of Mental Health, Men and Mental Health
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Abuse
Psychiatric Times, “Introduction: Gender-Specific Issues Relative to Mental Illness”
Psychiatric Times, “Sex Hormones and Gender Vulnerabilities to Anxiety Disorders
Regis College, Online Post-Master’s Certificates
World Health Organization, Gender and Women’s Mental Health