Is Depression Different in Males and Females?
Depression is a disorder that affects millions of people worldwide.
In the U.S alone, more than 16.1 million adults experience a major depressive episode annually — this number continues to grow. Though depression can take many forms, there are general symptoms that many people tend to experience. The most obvious would be a depressed or saddened mood, though other associated symptoms are:
– a loss of interest or satisfaction in one’s usual activities
– drastic changes in appetite
– out-of-whack sleeping patterns
– problems concentrating
– feelings of guilt and worthlessness
These symptoms are the most common, but depression affects everyone differently.
From 2015 to early 2016, I suffered through my own personal bout of major depression. If I didn’t absolutely have to, I never got up from my bed in the morning. I could never fall asleep at night, I felt sluggish and tired all the time, and my poor eating habits left me 15 pounds lighter of my usual 140. Though all signs of my behavior led to me being depressed, I, for the first few months of feeling this way, had no idea I was dealing with depression. I was quick to anger, and it was easy for me to be downright mean to my roommates over trivial things. I even found ways to start a conflict. Driving to my apartment from work one day, I decided that if one of my roommates didn’t
spontaneously make me dinner, which I never asked them to do, I would throw a fit. When I got home, did I ever have a tantrum. I drank excessively and got defensive when people showed concern. I never cried, or felt overwhelmingly sad. It was everyone else’s fault that I was this way.
It took time for me to realize that I needed to change. Upon seeing a Psychiatrist, I had discovered I was an extremely irritable depressive. It took more time and hard work to recover, and to realize that much of my anger was a mask for my sadness.
A close friend of mine had her own personal battle with depression soon after I had recovered. She felt many of the major symptoms; the anhedonia, the poor sleeping habits, the concentration problem. The only difference between us was that she had gained weight instead of lost it. I did notice something about her in her depression; she rarely, if ever, lashed out at me in anger. In fact, she seemed to be hypercritical of herself, something I never openly expressed when I was dealing with depression. Obviously, we had both experienced our bouts of depression differently, could this have been due to our gender? Do women and men experience depression differently or were these behavioral differences unique to us as individuals?
On this topic, the psychological community responds in agreement; one’s gender can affect one’s experience with depression.
Many researchers define vast emotional differences in the way men and women react to depression. Dr. Deb Serani, a specialist in trauma and depression, states that women have higher tendencies to identify their symptoms as depressive than men. Women are also able to express these symptoms in non-destructive ways and seek treatment. Though women can also be prone to show irritation or frustration, men often have more heightened angry or agitated behavior. Serani also mentions that women tend to be more in-tune with their emotions than men, who in many societies are taught at a young age to suppress their more vulnerable emotions.
A 2013 study published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal elaborates on hegemonic, or “toxic”, masculinity playing a role in men who deal with depression. These researchers found that the level of which men are able to handle a depressed mood relates to their level of commitment to the idea of a dominant “man’s man” ideal. As a result, men who adhere to this “men don’t cry” ideal tend to react to sadness and depression with anger and self-destructive behavior.
Ph.D. and author Jed Diamond describes another difference between men and women: blame. In relation to externalizing their emotions, men are more likely to blame others for their condition. This can lead men to become guarded and suspicious of others. Women, who tend to be more self-reflective, tend to blame themselves for their condition, which can lead to feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt.
Diagnosis and Treatment
On average, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men. Antidepressants are also prescribed twice as often to women. This is in fact, a global phenomenon; young women are at the highest risk for major depression.
Men are not as often diagnosed with depression. Though male diagnosis has always been lower in count, there is a possibility that men and women may be equal in cases of depression. Women may just be more willing to talk openly about their depression and seek treatment. Men do have higher rates of suicide than women — male suicide rates are three times higher on average than female rates. This is often due the longer time men tend to wait before seeking diagnosis or treatment. Men are more likely than women to wait until their mental state becomes unbearable to seek help.
Women are more prone to developing eating disorders in pairing to their depression. According to Diamond, women are more likely to use food as a means of self-medication. Disorders like bulimia or binge-eating disorder may arise as new problems that coexist with depression. Women who may not eat due to stress or apathy may develop anorexia.
Though possible, men are not as likely to develop these disorders. It is common for men instead, to depend on substances like alcohol or narcotics. It is also common for men to take to addictions like gambling or binge-watching television.
So do men and women feel depression differently?
Yes, and no. The common symptoms of depression are felt by the large majority of those who suffer it, regardless of gender. However, our gender does play a significant part in how we considerably attached to traditional gender roles. Of course, there are many who don’t fit the mold of the common depressed man/woman that I’ve just discussed. But there are many who adhere to these gender roles and suffer as a result.
Men are supposed to be the strong ones, right? Why should they be unable to bear a “bad mood”? The reality is, many depressed men feel the same depression women do, they just aren’t saying anything about it! The inability to speak about it makes it unbearable. Depression is treatable for everyone. Man or woman, step one is to admit the problem exists and to talk about it. If I could swallow my pride and seek treatment, I believe wholeheartedly that anyone can.