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 in the U.K. 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.
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 longer. Five of the most common warning signs of depression 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 the most widespread form of mental disorder. It has long been thought of as a condition that affects mostly women, but increasingly there is awareness that men may be affected just as frequently, though their symptoms may not be recognized as easily. There are several reasons for this. For example, whereas women are more likely to acknowledge emotional feelings and seek treatment, men are inclined to divert to activities such as work, alcohol, drugs or other forms of risky behavior. Men may not see depression for what it is, or if they do feel discomfort, they may find difficulty expressing their feelings. In addition, there is a stigma attached to depression that challenges long-held beliefs of what it means to "be a man."
There is some evidence that the pattern of depression in men is somewhat different than women. For example, the onset of depression in men often occurs later in life, comes in shorter bouts and, in general, the risk of recurrent depression is lower. The risk factors for men include work stress, relationship breakdown, fatherhood, unemployment, bereavement and genetic vulnerability.
In the University of Westminster’s 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 the volunteers were asked whether Kate or Jack was likely to be suffering a mental health disorder and whether he or she should receive professional help.
Men and women were equal in their view that Kate suffered a mental disorder, though men were 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’s.
Stereotypes about gender and depression still exist and these continue to affect attitudes as to whether professional help should be sought for men experiencing the symptoms of depression.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.