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Social environment is a key influence in chance of developing a mental illness

While Canada has a generally positive reputation for gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and its treatment of ethnic minorities, recent mental health research has found consistent disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses for these people compared to the general population.

It’s important to note that additional factors such as disability, socioeconomic status, and individual factors also intersect with gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity when it comes to predisposing someone’s emotional well-being.


There’s an important distinction between men and women when it comes to diagnosis of certain mental illnesses. Research suggests that women are 75 per cent more likely than men to report recently suffering from depression, and 60 per cent more likely to report an anxiety disorder. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to report a substance abuse disorder.

“There is a pattern within—women tend to suffer more from what we call ‘internal’ problems like depression or sleep problems,” according to professor Daniel Freeman in an interview with the Guardian.

“They take out problems on themselves, as it were, where men have externalizing problems, where they take things out on their environment, such as alcohol and anger problems.”

While the difference between men and women is clear when it comes to mental illness, the reason why isn’t so apparent. After all, research has shown that women are more likely diagnosed with a mental illness.

According to 2015 article from Psychology Today, this is exacerbated by the fact that doctors have an implicit bias in favour of labelling women’s symptoms as emotional, while taking men’s symptoms more seriously.

Plus, men and women’s environments also plays an important role in the development of mental illness. Trauma, such as sexual assault, which is more likely to happen to a woman, is often a predictor of mental illness later on in life.

“The health care system has often neglected the concerns of women, and traditionally women have had very little control over their own medical treatment, both for emotional and physical problems,” according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “Diagnostic categories, like many mental health classifications and theories created by men, have tended to locate the difficulties of women within the individual and to label women’s behaviour in devaluing ways.”

Suicide rates in Canada adds further complexity to the issue of mental illness and gender.

In 2009, there was 3,890 suicides in Canada, and men were three times more likely to take their own lives than women. However, women are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than men. This is often attributed to the fact that women chose less fatal methods of suicide, while men opt for more violent exit strategies.

LGBTQ+ community

In Canada, homosexuality was considered a mental illness from 1952 until 1974. However, variations of the listing of homosexuality remained in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) until 1986. Since 1980, Gender Identity Disorder has been listed in the DSM.

This history has definitely had a ripple effect on society at large, as members of the LGBTQ+ community are still very likely to experience discrimination and mental health problems as a result. In addition, bisexual and trans people are more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, additional factors that may impact mental health and well-being for LGBTQ+ people include the process of “coming out,” gender transition, internalized oppression, isolation and alienation, loss of family or social support, and the impact of HIV and AIDS.

All in all, 33 per cent of LGBTQ+ youth have attempted to take their own lives at some point, compared to seven per cent of non-LGBTQ+ youth. In addition, LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide, and a study conducted in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario found in 2006 that 28 per cent of trans and two spirit people had attempted suicide at least once during their lifetime.

Ethnic and racial minorities

Racial and ethnic backgrounds can also predispose individuals to unique challenges when it comes to mental illness.

“Minority groups were much more likely to report mental health problems and stressful life events,” said professor Sherry Grace, publisher of a York University study on mental health in common ethnic minorities in Ontario. “And with the exception of Aboriginal Ontarians, we also found that they were less likely to use the mental health services that we have here.”

The researchers looked at self-reported data that encompassed south Asian, east Asian, southeast Asian, and black Ontarians, and compared their responses to white Ontarians.

They found that black participants face significantly more stressful life events, while south Asian respondents reported significantly greater anxiety. On the other hand, east Asian individuals reported significantly lower social support, and Aboriginal participants reported significantly greater depressive symptoms and lower social support.

All in all, while the data shows that there are differences in mental illness prevalence among different groups in Canada, the biggest thing to take away from this research is that marginalized groups in Canada experience mental illness and treatment in completely different ways.