Psychopathology addresses the specific phenomenon of mental disorders, intending to discern their etiology, their change and development, he symptomatic forms which they take, as well as intentions of treatment. (Rudd, 2013, p. 2) Whereas the study of psychopathology emerges from the field of medicine (Rudd, 2013, p. 2), there is also a decisive social element to psychopathology. For example, in Western capitalist countries, there is a significantly higher rate of diagnosis of psychological disorders than in non-Western countries. (Brannon, 2007, p. 393) Furthermore, psychopathology also appears to reflect distinct gender roles. (Brannon, 2007, p. 391)
The deep relationship between psychopathology, biological sex and gender roles is manifested in the multiple fashions in which gender roles tend to reflect themselves in particular psychopathologies. For example, females are more likely to experience depression. (Brannon, 2007, p. 31) In so far as there is no equal distribution between the male and female with regards to the experience of depression, this logically suggests that there is a gender dimension to this psychopathology. In contrast, the same argument could be applied to maintain a form of biological essentialism. Nevertheless, relationships to gender and sex are reflected in this diagnosis. Furthermore, the type of psychopathology that is evinced also bear marks of gender difference. (Brannon, 2007, p. 391) For females, therefore, behaviors related to psychopathologies will demonstrate exaggerated or hyperbolic forms of the female gender role, such as the exhibition of weakness, whereas in men, the same psychopathology will become a further caricature of the male gender role, in the form of, for example, violent behavior. (Brannon, 2007, p. 391) However, there is also a clear presence of the impact of gender roles on how psychopathologies themselves are approached by the medical community, thus further demonstrating the deep link between gender and psychopathology also from the perspective of theory, diagnosis and medical practice. (Brannon, 2007, p. 391) In so far as psychopathologies demonstrate some type of transgression of the dominant role, such that the female acts in a manner that is counter to the female gender role as example, then these cases are perceived as of a more drastic psychological problems. (Brannon, 2007, p. 391) Moreover, some forms of diagnoses of psychopathology historically have reflected gender roles, such as the reservation of the diagnosis of hysteria only for females.
From the above, therefore, psychopathology can be considered to be strongly related to gender to the extent that, firstly, the experience of particular psychopathologies is correlative to gender role, secondly, there exists a relationship between how the symptoms of a psychopathology are displayed, which also reflects a particular gender role, and thirdly, the way in which the gender role also affects how the psychopathology itself is approached from the side of the medical community, both in terms of diagnosis and treatment.
In so far as gender roles play such a significant function in psychopathology, it can be determined that there is a clear social influence on psychopathology. Namely, to the extent that gender roles are socially constructed, it could be, correlatively argued that psychopathologies themselves are a form of social construct. Certainly, this thesis could be supported to the extent that psychopathologies are abnormal behaviors and, in so far as they are abnormal behaviors, they are related to a norm, a norm which itself is socially constructed. Furthermore, the case for the social dimension of psychopathology could be argued for in terms of the different cultural approaches to the phenomenon of mental disorder itself. To the extent that non-Western cultures have a different view of psychological disorders, they will not only construct these disorders differently, but this will also influence how they regard the approaches to the treatment of these same disorders. (Brannon, 2007, p. 390).
At the same time, the social aspect of mental disorders does not in anyway entail that psychopathology is not a medical problem. In the World Health Organization’s list of the ten main causes of disability on the global level, five of the ten causes are mental disorders. (Brannon, 2007, p. 390) The social dimension of psychopathology, in other words, does not discount its “objective reality” as a phenomenon that affects in a negative manner the lives of individuals and those close to them. Rather, what the social dimension of psychopathology suggests is that adequate diagnosis, treatment and understanding of the aetiology of psycholopathological disorders entails an understanding of the way in which culture and social constructs shape these disorders, cause them, and also perpetuate them. Accordingly, because of the clear connection between psychopathology and gender, it would appear that one of the most dominant factors in the understanding of psychopathology is an adequate understanding of how gender roles function in society and their relation to biological sex. Furthermore, because of the clear cultural differences in approaches to psychopathological problems, there must also be an approach that emphasizes how different cultural constructs are involved in the production, reduction or denial of psychopathology. These cultural factors, such as gender, does not entail that there is not a biological root for psychopathology and a clear biological aetiology for many instances of psychopathology, but rather that an understanding of social context and specific social roles, such as gender, are integral to how not only psychopathologies are experienced by the individual, but also about how they are approached from the side of the medical community.
- Brannon, L. (2007). Gender Psychological Perspectives (6th ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
- Rudd, B. (2013). Introducing Psychpathology. Los Angeles: SAGE.