Mental health diagnosis is a complex and imperfect process. One of the many critiques with the medical model of diagnosis is the lack of attention to cultural and feminist considerations. Each topic warrants its own attention, but in this post, I wanted to focus on feminist considerations in diagnosis.
Feminist theorists believe that women’s anger, depression, and discontent have been reframed as psychiatric symptoms, and as a result, the often difficult and distressing life circumstances of women have been disregarded (Eriksen & Kress, 2005). Men who show mentally healthy characteristics may also be under-diagnosed, and thus not receive needed services ( e.g., anger is normalized-rather than recognized as depression). Also, well-socialized White males run the risk of under-diagnosis and thus, may not get the help that they need (Eriksen & Kress, 2005). Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with sexually-related disorders, substance abuse, antisocial, compulsive, paranoid, schizoid personality disorders. Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with: mood and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, borderline/dependent/histrionic personality disorders.
Mental health professionals tend to label clients behavior as abnormal if it does not fit with the mental health professional’s gender ideals. Research (e.g., Loring & Powell, 1988) suggests that simply knowing a client’s gender can influence the diagnostic process, even among experienced MH clinicians. Female and male clients may earn different diagnoses even when they present with identical symptoms (Becker & Lamb, 1994).
Clearly, there are numerous considerations related to gender and mental health professionals have obligation to be aware of these considerations. If you’re interested in learning more about feminist considerations in diagnosis, check out the Eriksen and Kress (2005) reference listed below.
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Becker, D., & Lamb, S., (1994). Sex bias in the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 25, 55-61.
Eriksen, K.P., & Kress, V.E., (2005). Beyond the DSM story: Ethical quandaries, challenges, and best practices. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Loring, M., Powell, B. (1988). Gender, race, and DSM-III: A study of objectivity of psychiatric
diagnostic behavior. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 29, 1-22.