Symptoms of depression may not be the same for both men and women. But these differences don’t mean that depression is more common for one gender over the other.
A recent study looked at several symptoms of depression in a large group of adults.
The results showed that the overall rates of depression were similar for men and women. Men, however, were more likely to have symptoms of aggression, substance abuse and risky behavior, while women were more likely to have symptoms of social withdrawal and sleep trouble.
Lisa A. Martin, PhD, from the department of Women’s & Gender Studies and Health Policy Studies at the University of Michigan, led a team to investigate how men and women experience symptoms of depression differently.
Each year, roughly 16 percent of the US population experiences symptoms of major depressive disorder, according to the authors of this study. Previous studies have shown that women have generally been diagnosed with depression at double the rate of men when a standard depression test is used.
The authors suggested that the disparity between rates of diagnosis in men and women might have to do with differences in how men and women experience some depressive symptoms.
“Rather than appearing sad, men experiencing emotional pain are more likely to react with anger, self-destructive behavior, self-distraction, or numbing of pain with substance use, gambling, womanizing, and workaholism,” the authors wrote.
Furthermore, the authors noted that irritability might be the key symptom that links men to depression.
For this two-part study, the researchers used two alternative tests to see whether women still had higher rates of depression compared with men after using male-specific tests. Both of these tests were alternatives to the standard depression Diagnostic and Statistical Model (DSM) criteria.
In the first test, 9,282 men and women were assessed for eight symptoms of mostly male-type depression in 2001. For the second test, 5,692 men and women — several of whom were part of the first assessment — were assessed in 2003 for 15 male-specific symptoms of depression.
Based on results from the first test, 26.3 percent of men and 21.9 percent of women had depression.
Men were more likely to report attacks of anger, aggression, substance abuse and risky behavior than women. Women were more likely to report stress, irritability, sleep problems and loss of interest in things they used to enjoy.
Based on results from the second test, little to no differences were found in rates of depression between men and women.
Overall, 63.2 percent of men and 62.0 percent of women had mild depression, 28.3 percent of men and 28.9 percent of women had moderate depression and 8.5 percent of men and 9.1 percent of women had severe depression.
On the second test, men and women reported symptoms of irritability, depressed mood, anxiety, stress and aggression at near equal rates.
Based on tests that include male-specific symptoms and traditional symptoms, the researchers found that 30.6 percent of men and 33.3 percent of women had depression.
The results of this study showed that the symptoms of depression may vary between men and women, but that the actual existence of depression did not vary significantly between genders.
"It all depends on how you measure depression. Men tend to externalize their depression as anger, substance abuse, etc., whereas women tend to internalize their depression as sadness and low self-esteem," Peter Strong, PhD, a registered mindfulness-based psychotherapist and author in Boulder, Colorado, told dailyRx News in an email.
"When you try to correct for the different modes of expression, the incidence of depression is the same for men and women," Dr. Strong, who was not involved with this study, continued.
This study was published in August in JAMA Psychiatry.
No outside funding sources were listed. The authors declared they had no conflicts of interest.