Women with Chronic Illness More Likely to Use Mental Health Care

Women with chronic illness sought mental health services sooner than men with same illnesses

(RxWiki News) Ongoing illness can burden the mind as it also takes a toll on the body. Counseling and other therapies aimed at boosting a sick individual’s mental wellness is a common course of action for some, but not for all.

According to a new study, women were more likely than men with the same chronic illnesses to pursue mental health services. These women also were more likely to seek that assistance sooner than men who did choose such services.

"Manage your mental health during physical illness."

This study’s lead author was Flora Matheson, PhD, of St. Michael's Hospital Centre for Research on Inner City Health and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

For this investigation, Dr. Matheson and her fellow researchers reviewed 10 years worth of information on 17,050 chronically ill patients who were listed in the Canadian Community Health Survey database, doctors’ insurance claims and inpatient medical records from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. The patients were aged 18 through 74, and 55 percent of study participants were women.

Each patient had one or more of four diseases: diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Each of those patients made at least one visit to a physician or other clinical specialist to specifically address their concerns about depression, anxiety, smoking addiction or marriage problems they believed were directly related to their illness.

Based on their findings, these researchers concluded that 48.1 percent of the female patients with chronic physical diseases and 36.7 percent of the male patients with chronic disease used mental health services. Women were 10 percent more likely than men with the same illnesses to use mental health care.

On average, those who sought mental health care did so about three years after their chronic illness developed.

"Chronic physical illness can lead to depression," said Dr. Matheson in a press statement. "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."

More study is needed to determine what drives some chronically ill men and women to get mental health counseling and what prevents others from doing the same, the researchers wrote.

Still, these researchers suggested, "If women begin to use services for mental illness six months earlier than men ... [that] could lead to better mental health outcomes [for women and suggest worse ones for men] ... Alternatively, it could mean that the symptoms are worse among women. Hence, the reason they seek [mental health] care earlier than men."

Charlotte Howard, PhD, a psychologist and psychotherapist in Austin, TX, told dailyRx News that caring for the mind and emotions is especially important for chronically ill people, regardless of their gender.

"Chronic physical pain is incredibly psychologically taxing," Dr. Howard said. "Learning to deal with feelings and how to relate to one's physical and emotional pain is key in minimizing suffering. Non-judgmental [self-]awareness, [self-]soothing and caring for one's experiences can decrease the sensations of pain. Many struggle [with that but] ... can learn this skill in therapy."

This study was published June 26 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded this research.

The researchers reported that they had no financial investments or other involvements that might shape study design, outcomes or analysis.

Review Date: 
June 24, 2014