More Americans than ever wrestle with depression at least once in their adult lives. Depression tears careers, families and lives apart. Many people suffering from depression do so silently, not wanting to admit their feelings to others.
Researchers studying depression discovered a clear link between gender and one’s risk of developing depression. While men and women endure similar symptoms, understanding the manner in which they exhibit these symptoms differently can lead to better health care outcomes. So is depression more common in males or females? The answer is a little more complex than “yes” or “no.”
According to medical science, women run twice the risk of developing depression compared to their male peers, but scientists remain uncertain why women run such a significantly higher risk of becoming depressed. Some point to the societal pressure that women endure, while others believe biology may play a large role. It’s likely that a combination of factors has an effect.
Symptoms of depression include a persistent sad or empty state of mind, feelings of guilt and helplessness, decreased energy and a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities. Many people suffering from depression also experience feelings of anxiety but feel powerless to alleviate them.
While both men and women may experience some or all depression symptoms, these symptoms often manifest differently in men and women. Men suffering from depression tend toward irritability and angry outbursts. Women, on the other hand, internalize their feelings more and often become despondent and withdrawn.
One reason for the higher prevalence of depression in women stems from her hormones. Women of childbearing age suffer far greater rates of depression than older women past menopause.
Both progesterone and estrogen impact the brain’s neurotransmitters, which explains why many women develop a worsening of symptoms just before and during their menstrual periods.
Likewise, nearly everyone has heard of postpartum depression as countless new moms develop this disorder. Postpartum depression arises from the fall in hormone levels that occurs in the weeks after a woman gives birth.
Men and women still face different societal pressures even in these liberated times, which may explain why women are twice as likely to develop depression. Even today, some people look to women for nurturing and care, and many little girls quickly learn that cooperating and performing acts of service leads to rewards. As a result, young women tend to base their sense of self-worth on other people’s perceptions. Young boys, conversely, often receive praise for feats of athleticism, which puts the skill of the individual child first, building self-esteem.
In addition, teenage girls report feeling unhappy with their circle of friends and experiencing feelings of isolation. People with a strong support system run a lower risk of depression, so teen girls experiencing ostracism from their peers run a significantly higher risk of developing the disease.
Finally, despite making strides toward pay equity, women still typically earn less than men in the workplace. Because low-income individuals run a higher risk of depression due to constant financial stress, women’s lower incomes indirectly lead to them developing higher levels of depression.
Depression claims countless lives due to suicide each and every year. Here, too, gender differences exist. While women make three times as many suicide attempts as men, men actually die from the attempt three times more often than women do.
Differences also exist in the methods each gender chooses when attempting suicide. Men often opt for far more violent and lethal means such as a gunshot to the head or jumping in front of a train. Women, on the other hand, prefer methods such as overdosing on drugs or drowning.
Interestingly, women who complete suicide often had made previous attempts, whereas men completing suicide often completed the act on the first try. As a word of caution, one should never accuse a woman who has made a suicide attempt of making a plea for attention. Doing so only serves to guilt the woman and make her more likely to try a more lethal method in the future, leading to needless deaths.
Many ask, “is depression more common in males or females?” However, what’s more important to understand is how this disease affects the genders differently. Fortunately, even though men and women experience depression differently, techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy work equally well for members of both genders. In addition, many men and women react similarly to antidepressant medications with adjustments in dosage allowed for body size.
With current treatment options available, a diagnosis of depression need not become a life sentence. With the help of a strong support system, the right medications and appropriate counseling, both men and women with depression can regain their smiles and their sense of joy in life.