Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education
What Are Symptoms of Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that results in long term feelings of sadness and despondence. Before we get to gender differences in depression symptoms, it would probably be a good idea to know what those symptoms are.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms of depression include:
- Anxiety or feelings of emptiness
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty paying attention, remembering and making decisions
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Loss of interest in activities
- Persistent aches or pains
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
Using this standard criteria, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men. The difference in rates of diagnosis is perhaps the biggest disparity in gender expression of depression symptoms.
Can Depression Be Hidden?
Many studies of these gender differences suggest that men are diagnosed with depression less often than women because they are likely to respond differently to stress for biological or cultural reasons. For example, a woman might respond to the death of a family member by feeling hopeless but a man in the same situation might respond by drinking excessively. Strange as it may sound, the man in this example is not technically experiencing depression because he is not exhibiting any of the standard symptoms of the disorder. He is instead suppressing any standard depression symptoms that might arise. Other ways men may deal with stress include behaving aggressively, working more often than usual or engaging in high risk activities such as motorcycle racing.
According to a study by Dr. Lisa Martin, Dr. Harold Neighbors and Dr. Derek Griffith, when typical male reactions to stress are added to the standard list of depression symptoms, the gender disparity essentially disappears. Their conclusion is not that more women are depressed than men, but rather that women tend to more often exhibit the symptoms on the diagnostic list. It is interesting to note that men in societies with less restrictive cultural norms of male emotional expression are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men in the U.S.
Other Differences in Symptom Expression
- Emotional Awareness
Another reason for the gender disparity may be that some women are more in touch with their emotions than men. Because of this, they may be more likely to recognize depressive symptoms as problematic and get help sooner. Men may take longer to recognize depressive symptoms or be unwilling to seek help for them until they've progressed in severity. This may also explain why men diagnosed with depression are more likely to think about and commit suicide than women.
- Hormonal Fluctuations
Some researchers assert that hormonal differences among the genders may lead to the higher rate of depression diagnosis in women. The gender gap in hormonal fluctuations starts to appear around puberty but can also be affected by other events in a woman's life such as pregnancy and menopause.
In general, women might ruminate, or think about their thoughts and feelings, more often than men do. While this helps women without depression process emotions better than men, during depressive episodes this practice might intensify and prolong the negative feelings instead of alleviating them.
In the United States, women are diagnosed with depression about twice as often as men are. Of the ten symptoms on the standard diagnostic list for depression, men tend to most often exhibit thoughts of suicide and irritability whereas women are more likely to exhibit eating disorders or feelings of hopelessness. Some researchers suggest this is because men deal with stress differently, most notably with destructive behaviors such as alcohol abuse or aggressive outbursts. Some researchers conclude that if typical male responses to stress were added to the diagnostic list, the rates of depression would be about the same in adult male and female populations in the United States.
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