Bioethics Blogs

(en)Gendering psychiatric disease: what does sex/gender have to do with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Mallory Bowers is a 5th year Neuroscience doctoral candidate working with Dr. Kerry Ressler at Emory University. Prior to graduate school, Mallory received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania. Mallory is interested in behavioral neuroscience, with a particular focus on how neural plasticity contributes to learning. With Dr. Ressler, Mallory is using a mouse model of exposure-based psychotherapy to better understand the neurobiology of learned fear. Specifically, her research focuses on a potential interaction between the cholecystokinin and endogenous cannabinoid systems that may underlie extinction of cued fear. Mallory was on the organizing committee for the 2013 “Bias in the Academy” Conference and is President of Emory Women in Neuroscience (E-WIN).

As I’ve become more entrenched in the PTSD field, I’ve been struck by the prominent sex/gender difference in the prevalence of PTSD (among many other psychiatric disorders) and the categorical use of male animal models. As researchers begin to explore sex differences in animal models of stress, anxiety, and fear, evidence suggests that male animals are more vulnerable to acute and chronic stress, while females appear to be more resilient (Cohen and Yehuda 2011). The results of these animal studies contradict the human epidemiological data, with lifetime prevalence of PTSD at 10-14% in women and 5-6% in men in the United States (Breslau, Davis, et al. 1991, Breslau, Davis, et al. 1997, Kessler, Sonnega, et al. 1995, Resnick, Kilpatrick, et al. 1993). In this post, I’d like to explore the ways in which socio-cultural conditioning genders an individual’s sense of self, influences definitions and language surrounding mental health, and supports frameworks of gender bias (a putative low-grade, chronic stressor) – potentially contributing to sex/gender differences observed in the prevalence of certain psychiatric disorders, specifically PTSD.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.