The World Health Organization (WHO) perceives gender as a social construct that is viewed as a spectrum with people identifying and expressing varying degrees of both femininity and masculinity. The gender norms in America have evolved, as gender is no longer considered a simple binary term. Sex, or gender assignment, refers to “physical or physiological differences between males, females, and intersex persons, including both their primary and secondary sex characteristics.” While gender refers to social or cultural distinctions based on and associated with those characteristics. Recent studies have shown that gender may play an essential role in developing mental health problems. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 7 (14%) 10-19 year-olds experience mental health conditions, globally. There are a variety of ways in which gender can influence teen mental health treatment, as clinical findings illuminate gender differences in:
- Risk factors: Several studies have revealed gender differences in terms of prevalence and clinical presentation for various mental health problems in adolescents such as eating disorders, anxiety disorders, conduct problems, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Symptom presentation: According study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, girls with anxiety disorders are more likely to internalize emotions, which typically results in withdrawal, loneliness, and depression. Whereas boys with anxiety disorders, are more likely to externalize emotions, which leads to aggressive, impulsive, coercive, and noncompliant behavior.
- Treatment protocol: There are gender differences associated with teenage mental health care regarding the frequency of service use, the age at referral (compared to girls, boys are referred at a younger age, whereas girls are more likely to obtain treatment in early adulthood), as well as in the willingness to use mental health care (adolescent boys are less willing to use mental health services than girls). There are also gender differences regarding coping strategies and the use of medication.
One’s gender identity is directly informed by an interaction of biological traits, developmental influences, and environmental conditions. According to Social Learning Theory, children develop their gender identity through observing and imitating the gender-linked behaviors of others. The attitudes of those closest to a young person play a huge role in the development of gender identity, as adolescents are shaped and molded by their surroundings, and people they wish to please, emulate, and/ or follow. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that gender and age are two of the most significant factors in mental health. Further, experts assert that gender plays an important role in understanding the onset and course of psychopathology in childhood and adolescence, and is an integral factor in informing mental health treatment for teens.
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Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times. Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.