Gender stereotypes and mental illness
Jess McCabe // 6 March 2009
Researchers in the US have found people discriminate more against people with mental illnesses, if that illness matches gender stereotypes.
According to the press release on EurekAlert, researchers presented groups of volunteers with case histories of ‘Brian’ and ‘Karen’ and asked for their reactions.
Some read about Brian, who was a stereotypical alcoholic, while others read about Karen, who showed all the classical symptoms of major depression. Still others read switched-around versions of these cases, so that Karen was the one abusing alcohol and Brian was depressed. The idea was to see if the typicality of Brian and Karen’s symptoms (or lack of it) shaped the volunteers’ reactions and judgments.
And it did, without question. As reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the volunteers expressed more anger and disgust – and less sympathy – toward Brian the alcoholic than toward Karen the alcoholic, and vice versa for depression. They were also more willing to help Brian and Karen when they suffered from an atypical disorder. Most striking of all, the volunteers were much more likely to view Brian’s depression (and Karen’s alcoholism) as genuine biological disorders – rather than character defects or matters of personal irresponsibility. What this suggests is that stigma-busting campaigns need to closely consider the potentially powerful role of intersecting stereotypes in shaping when and how mental illness stigma is expressed.
(NB: Readers might also be interested in the feminist mental health blog Crazy Like Us?)