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Women Seek out Mental Health Services Earlier than Men

Update Date: Jun 26, 2014 11:51 AM EDT

People use mental health services differently based on several factors. In a new study, researchers examined the role of gender and found that women with chronic physical illnesses are more likely then men with similar illnesses to seek mental health services. Women were also more likely to get help earlier than men.

For this study, conducted by researchers from St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the team examined data taken from the Canadian Community Health Survey, ICES' inpatient medical records and physician claims. The participants were between the ages of 18 and 74, and were followed over a 10-year period from 2002 to 2011.

The researchers examined the effects that four physical illnesses had on people's use of mental health services. The illnesses were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), type 2 diabetes, asthma and hypertension, also known as high blood pressure.

"Chronic physical illness can lead to depression," said Dr. Flora Matheson, a scientist in the hospital's Center for Research on Inner City Health. "We want to better understand who will seek mental health services when diagnosed with a chronic physical illness so we can best help those who need care."

The team found that women who suffered from at least one of the four illnesses were 10 percent more likely than men who dealt with the same conditions to seek out mental health services. On top of that, the team reported that within any three-year time span, women with physical illnesses sought out care six months earlier than men with the same illnesses did.

"Our results don't necessarily mean that more focus should be paid to women, however," said Dr. Matheson, who is also an adjunct scientist at ICES, reported by Medical Xpress. "We still need more research to understand why this gender divide exists."

Even though the researchers could not identify why gender differences existed, they reasoned that women might be more comfortable with seeking mental health treatment than men. This reasoning suggests that programs could improve by being more open and welcoming for men.

The study, "Physical health and gender as risk factors for usage of services for mental illness," was published in the British Medical Journal's Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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