With the 2023 theme of International Women’s Day being Embrace Equity, we thought we would take this opportunity to discuss the gender gap in healthcare, including clinical trials. While more studies and research have been conducted to include and understand women, a lot of healthcare treatment today is based on the study of men.
Equity means we don’t all start from the same place and adjustments are needed to restore the imbalance. We can understand this in terms of clinical trials. Studying men and applying the results to women has been a long common practice, but it’s incorrect.
In this article, we examine the journey of understanding women’s physical and mental health and why conducting inclusive medical trials is crucial to bridge the gender gap in healthcare.
Why Don’t We Know More About Women’s Mental and Physical Health?
It seems strange today, but it’s only since the early 90s that women have been included in clinical studies. The exclusion was due to various reasons like fluctuating hormones and pregnancy, with the rationale that studies were expensive, and researchers didn’t want unpredictable hormones to tamper results. Looking back, it’s difficult to accept these reasons as to why half of the world’s population was ever excluded.
This lack of research has led us to only understand the medical needs of women through the lens of men. In fact, a common assumption in clinical trials was the only difference between men and women was their sexual and reproductive organs. Women were essentially considered “little men.”
The good news is we’re on the right track. In 2010, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research implemented changes to create awareness around gender when researchers apply for funding. Today, around 80 percent of researchers applying for funding include both sexes, proving that one small change can create long-term effects and an inclusive understanding of those beyond men.
Common Mental Health Conditions at GSWC
Being the only centre of its kind in Canada, the statistics GSWC produces can serve to better understand what women are seeking treatment for. The top 3 psychiatric conditions that GSWC treated in 2022 were (1) Alcohol Use Disorder, (2) Attention Deficit Disorder, and (3) Major Depressive Disorder, making up 43% of all clients. As a facility treating addiction and mental health as well as trauma, it’s unsurprising that Alcohol Use Disorder is the most common psychiatric condition.
It’s important to note we often treat concurrent disorders, meaning those coming to GSWC for substance use are often treated for a mental health disorder as well. Other common psychiatric disorders include PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and common mood disorders.
Knowing there isn’t an overwhelming amount of research and studies that exist specifically for women, the numbers and percentages we provide can prove to be beneficial. Having consistent data for women helps us and others offer better treatment services.
Why Specialized Treatment for Individual Sexes is Important
It’s important to note that referring to sex is from a biological standpoint (male and female) and gender is societal (men and women), and not everyone falls into these categories. Research and studies of both sex and gender are equally important. The more we know, the better treatment and services can exist for each person.
Both men and women experience the same mental health disorders, but causes, symptoms, and treatment can vary. Each person has their own specific needs and deserves treatment tailored for them. And in a world where men are commonly studied, it takes time to discover how to better help women.
By researching and understanding the unique differences between men and women, people can be diagnosed more accurately. And when people are diagnosed accurately, they can get the best treatment for their specific needs.
Gender-Specific Treatment at Georgia Strait
Providing the space for clients to be in a gender-specific facility offers the greatest likelihood for success. When clients feel secure, safe, and comfortable, then healing and growth can begin. We have a team of highly educated, trauma-informed, and empathetic professionals ready to help women entering Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic. To learn more about our programs, visit our website or call us anytime.
There is still a long road ahead when it comes to understanding women’s physical and mental health. The more we engage in conversations about bridging the gap in healthcare and embracing equity for all, the more change will come.