There’s supposed to be increasing awareness of the signs and symptoms of depression in men, but what happens if we compare a man and a woman with identical symptoms? This is exactly the question a researcher from the University of Westminster, UK, set out to answer. The results suggest that women are far more likely to be viewed as having significantly more distressing symptoms and more in need of help.
We have to acknowledge that low moods are commonplace and the list of associated symptoms is quite lengthy. In most cases however low moods pass whereas the symptoms of major depression are deeper and last for longer. Basically, five of the most common warns signs are constant worrying, moodiness, inability to make decisions, low sex drive and a lack of self-confidence. Sometimes, but not always, thoughts of death or suicide might also be stated, as in ‘sometimes I think I’d be better off dead’ or ‘you have to wonder what’s the point of it all?’
Major depression is actually the most widespread form of mental disorder. It has always been thought of as a condition that affects mostly women, but increasingly there is awareness that men may be affected just as badly but their symptoms may not be recognized so readily. There are a lot of potential reasons for this. For example, whereas women are more likely acknowledge emotional feelings and seek treatment men are more inclined to divert to activities such as work, or alcohol, or drugs or other forms of risky behavior. Men may not see depression for what it is, or if they do feel discomfort, may find difficulty expressing their feelings. There is also a stigma attached to depression and we can’t rule out the importance of upbringing and what it means to be a man.
There is also some evidence that the pattern of depression in men is somewhat different to women. For example, the onset of depression is often later in life, it often occurs in shorter bouts and generally the risk of recurrent depression is lower. The risk factors for men include work stress, relationship breakdown, fatherhood, unemployment, bereavement and genetic vulnerability.
Returning to the research - male and female volunteers were asked to consider one of two fictitious people, Kate or Jack. The symptoms they were asked to consider were identical and volunteers were asked whether Kate or Jack was likely to be suffering a mental health disorder and whether they should receive professional help. Men and women were equal in their view that Kate suffered a mental disorder. Men were also less likely than women to consider Jack as suffering from depression. In fact men were significantly more likely to rate Kate’s symptoms as more distressing, difficult to treat and deserving of sympathy than Jack.
It’s easy to see that stereotypes about gender and depression still exist and these no doubt continue to affect attitudes as to whether professional help should be sought.