Why Is Depression Different in Men and Women?

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Siffat Kaur Arora

18 May 2022

8 Min

Why Is Depression Different in Men and Women?

Table of Contents

Trigger Warning: Mentions of Depression and Suicide

To begin with, Major Depressive Disorder can be defined as 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 also lead to suicidal thinking. Someone with depression is also more likely to have physical or medical problems.

A lot of factors are known to contribute to the development of Depression, namely biochemistry, genetics, personality, and environmental factors. As a result of which, the appearance of major depression can vary quite widely, with gender seeming to play a role in how this condition manifests itself, especially if you have no one to talk to.

woman holding depression card

Gender Based Differences Regarding Depression

A set of social norms that associates certain traits with females or males, gender identity has been shown to act as a possible influence in the appearance of certain mental health issues, with depression being among them. It should be noted that gender is by no means the only determinant of how one's mental health is formed, and other above-mentioned factors are also important to look at.

Therefore, on their own, biological sex and gender differences may not have a powerful impact. When combined with other factors, such as life stressors, sexism, toxic masculinity, trauma, and co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety, substance use disorders, or eating disorders, these influences may make a person more prone to depression.

That said, gender can be a significant factor in the way one's mental health is developed and formed. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), women are 1.5-3 more likely to suffer from depression. One possible explanation is that hormonal changes that are specific to the female body could influence the onset of depression.

Jill Goldstein, director of research at the Connors Center for Women's Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, says that this difference results in part from biological reasons, such as hormones and genes that get disrupted when brain regions are developing in the male and female fetus. These biological changes during fetal development lay the groundwork that creates a vulnerability to mood disorders, such as depression.

In addition, women tend to be more turned into their emotions and better able to describe them when depressed, Goldstein said. Men might not recognize their symptoms as depression, perhaps denying or hiding their unhappiness, so the illness might get overlooked in men until it becomes more severe.

Ways Depression Differs Among Different Gender Identities

man in a hoodie sitting on a dark dimly lit street

Even though depression can’t be categorized on the basis of various genders, its expression surely varies between men and women. Here are some ways that depression may look different in men and women:

1. “Women Feel Too Much”, Umm Maybe?

Dwelling on and rehashing negative feelings, known as ruminating, occurs more commonly in women who have depression in comparison to men who have the illness. This behaviour may involve negative self-talk, crying for no obvious reason and blaming oneself. Unlike women, men tend to distract themselves when feeling down, which helps ease depression.

Adding onto this, women may be more likely to become depressed in response to a stressful event. Some evidence suggests that when women experience stressful situations, such as a death in the family, a difficult relationship or losing a job, they tend to respond in a way that prolongs their feelings of stress more so than men do. This may be because of interactions among stress hormones, female reproductive hormones and mood-regulating neurotransmitters, Goldstein said.

Therefore, dealing with and experiencing negative feelings may be a feature of depression at large but is seen more in women than in men.

2. “Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota” Is A Hoax! As mentioned above, men can be less likely to express or demonstrate their emotions openly and are often more reluctant to ask for help since society perceives them to be ‘weak’ if they express too much. Therefore such suppressed emotions may emerge in other forms. Research has indicated that men are often more likely to express depression in ways that differ from the more “classic” presentation. This difference may be one reason why depression in men is often missed or attributed to other causes. Men may be more likely to express depression in the following ways:

a. Misusing alcohol or other substances b. Irritability, frequent outbursts, or “explosive” anger c. Risk-taking (such as reckless driving or substance-impaired driving, gambling, smoking, unsafe sex) d. Escapism (e.g., working late, spending more time at the gym, playing video games for hours) e. On the other hand, in women, substance abuse tends to occur after the onset of depression, or as anxiety levels increase.

3. We May Not Even Recognize Men's Symptoms of Depression! Although women are hit harder by depression and are more vulnerable to it because of their biology, the illness is missed more frequently in men, due to societal norms, because of which even they tend to suppress their emotions or live in denial.

Depressive symptoms more common among men, such as anger, restlessness and engaging in risky behaviour, can create a "camouflaging" effect, at times causing mental health professionals to miss a depression diagnosis and instead chalk up their symptoms to stress or their personality. Therefore, it is common for Healthcare professionals and even family members to not pick up on depressive symptoms in men, which ultimately results in severe depression before it's detected.

4. Other Disorders Sometimes Come Complimentary For Women Depression and eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, often go hand in hand. Depression is also much more likely to occur at the same time as an anxiety disorder in women, such as panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

** 5. Men Are More Likely To Die By Suicide Than Women** Because depression symptoms in men can go longer without being diagnosed or treated, the condition might develop into a more devastating mental health problem. Men suffering from depression are also more likely to be successful than women when they attempt suicide.

6. Emotional Attunement Women are usually more emotionally attuned than men, which helps them recognize whether they may be dealing with depression. Additionally, women are also more likely to communicate their need for mental health support, including in cases of depression. As a result, more women are diagnosed and treated for this condition.

On the other hand, men are less likely to realize they might be dealing with depression and might push aside depressive thoughts or feelings rather than consciously facing them. Those who do recognize they are suffering are often reluctant to ask for mental health assistance. Admitting vulnerability can be hard to reconcile with a traditionally masculine, tough and stoic image many men identify with. As a result, not all men battling mental health issues choose to deal with it on their own, over seeking help from a mental health professional.

Depression Beyond the Binary

person of gender unknown sitting on the floor with hands covering their face

Adding to this, biological and social stressors can also be overwhelming for people in sexual minority groups. Studies have consistently shown that the rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are high in the LGBTQ+ community, wherein research also indicates that the increased risk of depression in transgender people, including those who are nonbinary, starts young.

Studies have also shown that kids and teens experiencing gender dysphoria and/or questioning their sexual orientation are more vulnerable to depression. The rate of depression in transgender adults is high and often linked to cissexism (the assumption that most people are cisgender) and transphobia, as well as a lack of knowledge in health care providers.

Transgender people seeking gender affirmation surgery who are unable to access support and treatment are at an even greater risk for depression and suicide.

The situation worsens as sexual minority groups have limited access to healthcare services, including mental health services, as they are underserved because of the social stigma attached to them and their nature of being.


Therapy&Me - We Can Help!

Depression and other mental health issues can severely impact an individual’s quality of life, hindering aspects of their daily life, ranging from maintaining relationships to regulating emotions. As the stigma of mental health continues to be challenged, more of those facing a mental health issue, whatever their gender, are turning to others for help.

If you or a loved one might be suffering from a mental health condition, please speak with your mental health professional, look into available treatments that have been recognized for their safety and efficacy, and consider reaching out to online or in-person support networks.

At Therapy&Me, an initiative started by Now&Me, you can now find a suitable therapist at your convenience with just one click.


FAQs

1. What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a complex mix of physical, emotional, and behavioural changes that happen in some women after giving birth. According to the DSM-5, a manual used to diagnose mental disorders, PPD is a form of major depression that begins within 4 weeks after delivery. The diagnosis of postpartum depression is based not only on the length of time between delivery and onset but on the severity of the depression.

2. What Is Clinical Depression?

Depression ranges in seriousness from mild, temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression. Clinical depression is the more severe form of depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It isn't the same as depression caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder.

3. How To Help Someone With Depression?

Due to the social stigma attached to mental health-related issues, people might avoid accepting the fact they are dealing with depression, or even if they do, some might refuse to ask for hel[p at all. To begin with, encouraging treatment of any sort should be a primary goal. One can also talk to the person as to what they have noticed and why they are concerned. Explaining what depression really is, in a way to reduce the stigma attached to it, one can also offer to help and express their willingness to help.

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