The sound of crying is a sound which is instantly recognized by people all over the world. Not only will you recognize this sound, you may also react by crying yourself. Crying is a universal expression of extreme emotion. You can cry from joy. You can cry in frustration, anger, or from physical pain. But most people cry because they are feeling sad. If you are feeling depressed, you may cry a lot. Yet it is true that not all people will cry when depressed. Crying is a truly subjective behavior and is uniquely felt and expressed by each individual.
In this post we are going to explore crying as an integral part of our culture as well as a possible symptom of depression. We will also attempt to answer questions about whether crying is healthy for us and how to determine when crying is a sign that we need to seek some help.
Statistics on Crying
Over the years there has been a lot of research conducted about how and why we cry. Doctor William Frey, Ph.D., biochemist and author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, found some intriguing results from his studies on tears at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis. Here are just some of the findings of his research:
• Women cry five times as much as men. Women cry 64 times a year as compared to 17 times a year for men. Dr. Frey theorizes that a woman’s greater level of prolactin is responsible for being more tearful.
• Women cry more when they are sad, frustrated or angry and men cry mainly over major losses.
• Men and women usually cry for about six minutes per crying episode.
• We cry more often in the evening. We are more tearful between 7 and 10 p.m.
• 85 percent of women and 73 percent of men report they feel better after crying.
If you describe yourself as someone who cries you are not alone.
• Incoming house speaker John Boehner cries so much that it has become a point of discussion for the media. U.S. News and World Report quote him as saying, “This is me, I am comfortable with who I am. Everybody who knows me well knows I cry and that's who I am."
• Comedians like Dane Cook not only cry but use the experience as a story to tell during his stand-up comedy show. It is a hilarious skit, not to be missed.
• We all know that babies cry. This baby has fine tuned his crying to a fine art to gain attention. And this baby’s cries are so contagious that it makes the family dog cry.
• There are those who seek out a good cathartic cry. There are many songs which can induce tears such as this standard called Crying, as sung by Roy Orbison. There are even lists of movies which are said to make even the most stoic male cry.
The cultural and societal norms have changed somewhat over the years about crying. It seems to not be as big a deal for people to cry and even publicly. For example, Leslie Stahl, who interviewed John Boehner and discussed his crying, was quoted as saying, "I don't think the public is going to have a negative feeling about this at all. I do think public attitudes about crying have changed a lot." Not all public sentiment is eager to embrace crying as reflected in such books such as, A Culture of Crybabies: The 21st Century World of Wimps, Whiners, and Victims or this video making fun of celebrities who cry.
Is crying a sign of depression?
Although crying is not listed as a formal diagnostic symptom of depression, many sufferers of depression do report that they seem to cry more during a depressive episode. For example, our Deborah Gray reports on her real-life depression symptoms including bouts of crying: “You cry frequently for no apparent reason, and it's not the good kind of crying you get from watching "The Notebook".
I have had it go both ways where I have had depressive episodes where I could not stop the tears and other times when I felt like an emotional desert and I simply didn’t have the energy to cry. I remember one bad episode where I was crying everywhere. I cried at home. I cried while writing papers for graduate school. And I also cried at work, which was a clear signal to my co-workers that I needed help. In my case my crying was a part of depression compounded by grief. I had just had a miscarriage. And although I felt out of control with all my crying, it felt better to me than those times when I could not cry.
Crying as a single symptom, may or may not be a sign of depression. In fact some research shows that there is little to no correlation between crying or the lack of crying with depression. But if you find yourself crying more than usual you may want to assess whether or not you are showing any other symptoms of depression. There are many people who are simply more sensitive individuals than the rest of the world and crying may be a more frequent experience for such a person. It doesn’t necessarily make you abnormal if you cry easily. It becomes a problem when crying interferes with your day to day functioning. If you find that you cannot control it when you need to, such as at work or school then you might want to take a look at what is triggering your crying and find a way to keep it from disrupting your life. Likewise some people may want to cry but feel unable to express themselves in this way. A therapist may be able to help.
Is crying healthy for you?
Nowadays it seems the norm to say that crying is healthy for you because it is emotionally cathartic. One of my former therapists had actively encouraged me to cry not only for the emotional release but also because he said that crying releases toxins from the body. I was dubious about this claim so I looked to see if there was any research to back up this theory. I found many references to Dr. William Frey’s research on tears stating that emotional tears have a much higher concentration of stress hormones than reflex tears (tears to cleanse the eye). The theory is that the stress hormones and toxins are then released through your tears following emotional trauma. Another theory is that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, which are described as “feel good” hormones. Yet some people are not convinced such as the folk on the Straight Dope website.
Recent research seems to indicate that the positive effects of crying depend upon multiple factors. University of South Florida psychologists Jonathan Rottenberg and Lauren M. Bylsma are researchers who were able to pinpoint these variables. Here are some of the findings from their study, published in the 2008 December issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
• The researchers found that the majority of subjects reported that their mood improved after crying but one third reported no improvement and a tenth felt worse after crying.
• According to the same research, people who suffer from anxiety or mood disorders are least likely to experience positive effects from crying. In addition, individuals who lack insight into their emotional lives tend to feel worse after a bout of crying.
• Crying with the support of one other person present was found to significantly be more likely to produce a cathartic response as compared to crying in front of a large group.
• How our parents responded to our crying when we were children was found to have an effect on whether or not we perceive crying to be a positive outlet or not. It seems logical that if you had parents who responded with love and compassion when you cried, you will feel better after a good cry as an adult. But those individuals who had parents who ignored, reprimanded, or made sarcastic remarks about their crying may find that crying as an adult makes them feel worse. How we respond to crying may be, in part, a learned response.
If you want to read more about the psychology of crying, there are many articles on this topic including:
• The Health Benefits of Tears (Psychology Today)
• The Psychology of Crying (Science Daily)
• Why We Cry (Women’s Health)
Now we want to hear from you. Do you feel that crying is a symptom of your depression? Do you cry more or less when you are depressed? Do you experience crying as a healthy emotional outlet or does it make you feel worse? Tell us all about it. We want to hear your story.
Additional articles on depression symptoms:
• Feeling Numb
• Guilt and Shame
• Feeling Trapped