Are Women Really More Depressed Than Men?
Depression has long been considered more of a problem with women than men. But new studies are showing that rates of depression in adults may be more in sync between the sexes than previously thought.
A study by Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan tested 5,700 U.S. adults already involved in a long-range mental health study conducted through Harvard Medical School. Less than half (41 percent) of the study participants were male, making for an ideal subject pool. Researchers wanted to know if diagnoses among men and women might come closer together if alternative symptoms used as criteria for major depression were used instead of more conventional symptoms. In the past, women have been diagnosed with depression 70 percent more often than men.
The fact that men are supposedly less depressed than women has been puzzling since men are far more prone to suicide. Depression has long been referred to as anger turned inward. But what if the anger of depression is directed outward in men?
The researchers created two separate scales to gauge depression. One was non-gender specific, which included all the common symptoms recognized as being associated with depression — feeling sad or blue, loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities, trouble sleeping, and feeling worthless or guilty. Added to the already recognized symptoms of depression were symptoms that were considered male-related, like fits of anger or rage, irritability, aggressiveness, risky behaviors, hyperactivity and substance abuse. A second scale was created that was more male-specific.
When subjects were evaluated with the scale that included common symptoms and male-related symptoms, depressive episodes were discovered in 33.6 percent of females and 30.6 percent of males. In other words, the prevalence of depression was nearly equal between men and women. When the researchers used the more male-specific scale rates of lifelong occurrences of depression, the results were 21.9 percent in women and 26.3 percent in men.
Experts now believe that women more readily confess to emotional lows and struggles with self-worth but men turn those same emotions into explosions aimed at others. Men don’t want to deal with the emotions so they spew them onto those around them or attempt to escape them by engaging in high-risk behaviors or dulling them with overwork, over-sex or overuse of substances. Given the results of the study, the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry suggests that men may have even more major depression than women, which would also explain their higher risk for suicide.
During adolescence, however, girls still seem to outnumber boys in terms of struggles with depression. Experts say that this may be due to the fact that girls are confronted with a greater number of stressors at one time during the teen years. Girls enter into puberty at just about the same time that they are transitioning to a new school environment. Simultaneously, they are coming to grips with the idea that female roles may not be as highly valued as male roles once they reach adulthood.
In addition, females tend to cope with stress in a way that often leads to depression. While boys manage stress through distraction — putting troubling thoughts out of mind and focusing on other things — girls tend to ruminate. The habit of contemplation and self-examination frequently deepens depressed feelings rather than relieving them.
While we are learning that men probably experience as much or even more depression than women, it still appears that teenage girls outnumber boys in terms of feeling depressed.
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