TORONTO, June 26, 2014 – Women with chronic physical illnesses are more likely to use mental health services than men with similar illnesses; they also seek out mental health services six months earlier than those same men, according to new study from St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).
"Chronic physical illness can lead to depression," said Dr. Flora Matheson, a scientist in the hospital's Centre 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 findings, published today in the British Medical Journal's Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, looked at people diagnosed with at least one of four physical illnesses: diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Researchers found that among those with at least one of these four illnesses, women were 10 per cent more likely to use mental health services than men. Furthermore, within any three-year period, women with physical illness used medical services for mental health treatment six months earlier than men.
"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. "We still need more research to understand why this gender divide exists."
The results may imply that women are more comfortable seeking mental health support than men. Alternatively, the gender discrepancy might mean that symptoms are worse among women, requiring more women to seek help and sooner, or that men defer seeking treatment for mental health concerns.
The study used data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, physician claims and inpatient medical records from ICES. Mental illness service use was defined as one visit to a physician or specialist for mental health reasons, such as depression, anxiety, smoking addiction or marital difficulties.
This research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
About St. Michael's Hospital
St. Michael's Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital's recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.
ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of health care issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting health care needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.
For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr. Matheson, contact:
Adviser, Media Relations
St. Michael's Hospital
416-864-6060 ext. 6537
Media Advisor, ICES
(o) 416-480-4780 or (c) 647-406-5996
Please note that Dr. Matheson is available for on-camera interviews on Friday, June 20, 2014 only. She is, however, available by phone throughout the embargo window.
Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health