Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men, and some underlying biological factors may contribute to this discrepancy. However, many scientists hypothesize that the primary driver of the gender gap is that women are more likely to self-report symptoms, and men who experience depression may be less likely to seek help, get a diagnosis, and receive treatment.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline immediately by visiting their website or texting/calling 988. Free support is available 24/7.
What Is Depression?
Major depressive disorder is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in the United States, and it can be serious and even life-threatening. Though 6.2% of adult men in the US self-reported having major depressive episodes in 2020, it is estimated that the actual percentage of men who experience major depression is higher due to stigmas about men seeing mental health support.
How Depression Varies By Gender
Most depressive symptoms are the same for both men and women. These include the following:
- Substance use
- Angry outbursts
- Overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
- Crying easily or often
- Loss of motivation, difficulty concentrating
- Feeling worthless or engaging in self-blame
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Appetite changes
- Unexplained physical pain, such as headaches or gastrointestinal issues
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Fatigue or restlessness
- Thoughts of suicide
According to Dr. Andrew Angelino, a Howard County General Hospital psychiatrist, men are more likely to experience anger, whereas women are more likely to experience excessive crying. These differences in emotional experience may be due to how many children are taught to express their emotions based on gender. In addition, according to a 2021 survey from the Institute of Psychology, men may be more likely to:
- Use substances to self-medicate
- Disconnect emotionally
- Become aggressive
- Engage in risky behaviors, including reckless driving
- Die by suicide
Why Depression In Men Is Often Undiagnosed
To understand why men don’t often reach out for help, the American Psychological Association refers to the stereotypical image of a “strong man,” the Marlboro Man. The Marlboro Man, a rugged cowboy, might not reach out for help, talk about his emotions, or acknowledge having emotions. In many American families, the Marlboro Man represents the “ideal” version of masculinity.
To adhere to the standards of masculinity, many men are taught as children to suppress their emotions. When men do not follow their gender expectations, they may face repercussions. For example, a study found that men who reveal vulnerability at work are seen as less competent by their peers. Additional studies find that men who act more supportive, empathetic, and emotionally available often experience harassment, lower pay, and are viewed as weaker. As a result, some men become unwilling to express emotional vulnerability or reach out for help.
Symptoms of depression that are more common in men—such as experiencing increased aggression, risky behaviors, substance use, and anger—are not commonly discussed symptoms of depression. If you look up the symptoms of depression on a webpage, these symptoms may not be included. Due to a lack of knowledge, some men may blame external factors for a change in mood and behavior rather than relating them to depression.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
Depression Is Treatable
Depression is a highly treatable mental illness. If you’re experiencing treatment, talking to a doctor or therapist can help you connect with the following options.
If you are experiencing moderate, severe, or chronic depression, your psychologist, doctor, or psychiatrist may recommend medications. Consult a medical doctor before starting, changing, or stopping a medication, and attend all medication management appointments to help your psychiatrist track your emotional responses and potential side effects. Some medications may interact with vitamins, supplements, and other medical treatments, so contact your doctor and ensure you talk about all areas of your treatment plan.
Many practices have been proven effective in preventing the occurrence of depressive symptoms and reducing the severity of symptoms. These include but are not limited to the following:
- Deep breathing
- Massage therapy
- Light therapy
- Gratitude journaling
- Listening to music
- Routine exercise
- Sufficient sleep
- Adequate nutrition
- Positive self-talk
- Maintaining supportive social bonds
Though reaching out when you seek support can be challenging, it is often better to address mild depression before it becomes moderate or severe. Untreated depression can impact your relationships and physical health and may increase your chance of engaging in risky behaviors.
Psychotherapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can effectively reduce the severity of depressive symptoms. CBT is a popular type of psychotherapy where therapists work with clients to acknowledge, understand, and reorient maladaptive emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. For men who are worried about adhering to gender stereotypes and masculinity expectations, CBT can be oriented to address those feelings.
If you feel uncertain about attending in-person therapy sessions, you can sign up for online therapy. A 2017 study found that online CBT, offered through sites like BetterHelp, is effective for many psychiatric disorders, including depression. Some men may find it easier to be emotionally vulnerable when physically distant from their therapist. Studies have found that men often prefer online therapy due to these reasons.
Is there a gender difference in depression?
Answering the question “Is male depression different from female depression?” can be complex. While the symptoms of depression are often similar for men, women, and people of any gender, there can be a difference in diagnosis and suicide rates. Women are typically more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men, but men are often more likely to commit suicide.
There may also be differences in the causes of depression for men and women, with women often experiencing higher rates of poverty, sexual abuse, or stresses relating to parenting at higher rates than men. In addition, hormonal changes, like those that occur during puberty and menopause, may also cause gender-related differences in depression symptoms.
How does depression affect girls differently than boys?
Depression can present with similar mental and physical symptoms for boys, girls, and individuals of any gender. However, one study focusing on teenage girls and boys found several key differences between their depressive experiences. For girls, depression symptoms often include hopelessness, self-blame, sadness, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, feelings of failure, concerns about health, and fatigue. Boys, on the other hand, experienced a lack of enjoyment in life, a loss of pleasure, sleep disturbances, and fatigue. In addition, one of the primary predictors of depression in teenage girls was feelings of guilt. Girls were also more likely to have depressive emotions related to body image.
Why is depression common in females than males?
Research suggests that the higher prevalence of depression in females may be partially related to hormonal changes. The risk of developing depression may be more pronounced during specific time periods, including before menopause, after pregnancy, during puberty, or prior to menstruation. This indicates that major hormonal fluctuations could function as a depression trigger. However, more research may need to be conducted on how depression affects men vs women in order to determine the differences in experience conclusively.
How do gender roles play in depression?
Gender roles may affect whether individuals are willing to seek treatment. For example, men tend to be taught that it is inappropriate to express one's emotions, as this may be a sign of weakness. As a result, they may suppress their feelings, even if they could be indicative of a depressive disorder. Gender roles also reinforce the idea that men should be strong and solitary individuals who do not need the support of others.
In order to adhere to this stereotype, men may refuse treatment or lie to loved ones to hide their emotions or struggles. Instead, these individuals may release their feelings through unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as emotional outbursts or impulsive anger. A person may continue to suppress their feelings even when experiencing long-term depression symptoms or related health concerns, such as negative affect, unwanted weight gain or loss, chronic fatigue, or feelings of hopelessness.
What is the most depressed age?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression prevalence was highest for those between the ages of 18 and 24 years old. Individuals in this age group accounted for 21% of the population. The least depressed age range included those who are over the age of 65, with only 14.2% of those with depression falling in this category.
In addition, the age-standardized prevalence of depression was higher for women than men (13.3% for men vs 24% for women). Education may also play a part in prevalence rates, with depression more prevalent for those who had not attained a high school education (21.2%) and less for adults who had received a college degree (15.4%) or a high school diploma (18.5%).
What gender has the most mental health issues?
While it's incorrect to use the phrase ‘mental health issues’, women may be more likely to experience challenges related to mental health. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that one in five women in the United States is experiencing a mental health condition such as depression, PTSD, or anxiety. In addition, research suggests that women were three times more likely to experience mental health struggles as of 2017. This number increased from 1993 when women were only two times more likely than men to experience challenges relating to mental health. In addition, women were three times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders than their male counterparts.
Which gender is more stressed?
Research suggests that women tend to be more likely than men to experience stress. Approximately 28% of women reported feeling a ‘great deal’ of stress (that which ranked between 8-10 on a 10-point scale) compared to 20% of men. In addition, researchers found that 49% of women surveyed said that their stress had increased during the last five years, while only 39% of men reported the same. Sources of stress varied, but women reported that the economy and money were their main stressors, while men cited other factors like work as their most significant source of stress.
Which disorder is more common in males than females?
There are a variety of disorders that may affect males more commonly than females, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and early onset schizophrenia. Men may also be at higher risk for other medical conditions like Parkinson’s disease, gout, pancreatic cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS), and kidney stones. It's important to note that the prevalence of these disorders may change, and some conditions could become less common for men over time.
Why do so many men suffer from depression?
While women typically experience higher depression rates than men, there are a variety of reasons why men experience depression. One common reason that men may experience depression could be loneliness, which has been linked to a variety of physical and mental health conditions such as:
Who is most at risk for depression?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 21 million adults (or 8.3%) have had at least one major depressive episode during their lives. Of these adults, several demographics may be at a higher risk for depression, including:
- Adult females had a higher prevalence of major depressive episodes (10.3%) compared to males (6.2%)
- Adults between the ages of 18 and 25 had the highest prevalence of depressive episodes (18.6%) of any age demographic
- Those who reported having multiple (two or more) races had higher prevalence rates for a major depressive episode (13.9%)
It's important to note that, while these statistics can be helpful, anyone can experience depression. If you or someone you love is experiencing depressive symptoms, it can be beneficial to reach out to a mental health professional.
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