How Depression Affects Men and Women Differently

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Major Depressive Disorder is a mental illness that has a significantly negative effect on how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Depression typically causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. Other common symptoms of depression that are looked for when considering a Major Depressive Disorder diagnosis are: 

 

  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping/sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
 

Depression can have a detrimental impact on someone’s ability to function at work, at home, and in relationships. Depending upon the severity of the depression, it can lead to suicidal thinking. Someone with depression is also more likely to have physical or medical problems. 

Several factors can play a role in the development of depression: biochemistry, genetics, personality, and environmental factors. Biologically, there are differences in certain chemicals in our brains that may contribute to symptoms of depression. Depression can also run in families. For example, in studies of identical twins, if one twin has depression, the other has a 70% chance of having the illness at some point in their life. Personality can also contribute to development of depression; people with lower self-esteem, are easily overwhelmed by stress, or are generally pessimistic, appear to be more likely to experience and develop depression. Certain environmental factors are also directly linked to the development of depression: continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.

Depression rates by gender do vary and what symptoms of depression in men versus women can look different. There isn’t a significant difference in gender when it comes to being able to experience depression, however, there is a difference in expression of depressive feelings. Therefore, depression gender statistics may be skewed in terms of which gender is more often diagnosed with depression. Largely, from cultural and societal messages about emotion expression, men are encouraged to have a more limited range of emotion expression. Therefore, women are about two times as likely to be diagnosed with depression. And, depressive symptoms can look very different in men versus women.

If men with depression do struggle to express their emotions in general, they may come across (or actually be) more angry, irritable, or aggressive. Studies show that, in contrast, women are more likely to appear sad or express sadness. While the presence of anger as a primary or obvious emotion may not initially be associated with depression, as the assumption is that a key sign to look for in depression is sadness, men’s depression may be seen as more normal or aligned with accepted male behavior. In addition to feelings of sadness or anger, men with depression may feel very tired and lose interest in work, family, or hobbies. While women absolutely can experience those same symptoms with depression as well, it tends to be more common in men. Men may be more likely to have difficulty sleeping than women who have depression. 

Men are more likely to seek out care for physical symptoms related to their depression, rather than their emotional symptoms. It is common for mental health symptoms to also appear to be physical issues. For example, a racing heart, tightening chest, ongoing headaches, or digestive issues can be signs of depression or anxiety. For younger girls, hormone changes during puberty can increase some girls’ risk of developing depression.

Men are also more likely to use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their emotional symptoms. Self-medication is common with emotionally painful experiences, such as depression. Both genders self-medicate, but men are more likely to do so. Suicidal thinking is also common in both genders’ expressions of depression. What can vary, however, is that women with depression are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide because they tend to use more lethal methods.

Is depression more common in males or females? Statistically, the answer is women. However, if and when our cultural messaging around emotion shifts to a more widespread acceptance of everyone expressing emotions (regardless of gender), we may see depression statistics change. This would give us more accurate information on if depression does have any significant differences in genders. Until then, while there are differences in how depression can look in men vs women, everyone deserves their depression to be taken seriously and treated equally. 

 

This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer. 

 

Works Cited

National Institute of Mental Health . (n.d.). NIMH » Men and Depression. Retrieved April 2, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression/index.shtml

American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). What Is Depression. Retrieved April 1, 2020, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

Mayo Clinic. (2019, January 29). Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap. Retrieved April 1, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression/art-20047725

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