Depression affects men and women differently

Depression affects men and women differently

Depression is a mood disorder that results in feelings of sadness, anger or frustration over a longer period of time, and it affects millions of Americans. The signs include:

  • Feeling sad or empty
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Overeating, or not wanting to eat at all
  • Not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
  • Feeling very tired
  • Feeling hopeless, irritable, anxious, restless, angry or guilty
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Is there a difference between the way depression affects women and men?

Both men and women can suffer from depression, but depression can present differently for men and women.

Men become depressed less often than women. About 5% of men, compared to more than 8% of women, had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. However, men are less likely to report feeling depressed or to seek treatment for depression.

Women often internalize depression. They focus on emotional symptoms, such as feelings of worthlessness or self-blame. Women tend to view depression as a signal that they need help.

Men focus on external or physical symptoms of depression. They typically don’t say they’re feeling sad or get obviously weepy. Instead, they may have a feeling of numbness or complain of stress, a loss of energy or insomnia. They commonly become irritable and express anger.

Not all men are in touch with their feelings. As a result of cultural conditioning, men tend to view depression as a sign of weakness, failure or submitting to defeat. Many men believe they should be in control of their emotions and handle problems on their own. The feeling of weakness can make depression worse for men. The sense of defeat can prompt men to withdraw and become isolated.

Withdrawal can wreak havoc on a man’s relationships. Spouses and other loved ones can feel hurt or rejected.

Marital problems

Marital problems can cause depression in men and women. For women, marital problems often come first. In men, depression comes first and then causes marital problems.

A common male response to depression is to push those around them away. This can lead the partner to feel alone and helpless.

How can we help?

We should let those who may be suffering from depression know they’re not at fault — and they’re not alone. Lady Gaga, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, J. K. Rowling and Bruce Springsteen have all spoken publicly about depression.

Be positive. Depression in men often reflects a loss of self-esteem. We’ve found that men can be defensive about the topic of depression, so we suggest avoiding even using the word “depression”. Instead, discuss the symptoms that he may be experiencing, which could be anxiety, insomnia or lack of energy. Use these issues as an avenue for ongoing conversations.

Whether man or woman, explain that depression is an illness and is treatable. A combination of therapy and medication is often an effective treatment. What we call cognitive psychotherapy is especially helpful in preventing a relapse of depression. This treatment focuses on reframing negative thinking and expectations.

“We” is a powerful word

Let the depression sufferer know you’re on their side and you’ll work together to find an effective treatment.

An important next step for both of you is a visit with your health care provider. Your provider can help you find the right behavioral health professional to address the range of concerns associated with depression.

Life shouldn’t be daily struggle. We should all experience the simple joys of life. With help and treatment, those who suffer from depression can again live well.

Jeffrey Nerone is a behavioral health therapist with Aurora Behavioral Health Services in Wauwatosa, Wis.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Nerone
Jeffrey Nerone

Jeffrey Nerone is a behavioral health therapist with Aurora Behavioral Health Services in Wauwatosa, WI.