November 15, 2012
Gender Perceptions May Mean Fewer Men Receive Help for Depression
Could our perceptions of gender be part of the reason why more women than men are diagnosed with depression? According to a revealing new study from the UK, people are more likely to identify depression in women and less likely to recognize signs that men may be experiencing depression — even when the symptoms described are exactly the same.
To get a handle on gender perceptions of depression, the study presented a group of adults with one of two fictitious subjects, Kate and Jack. Both were described in non-clinical terms as having identical symptoms of major depression, the only difference being their suggested gender. For example, a sample of the test reads, “For the past two weeks, Kate/Jack has been feeling really down. S/he wakes up in the morning with a flat, heavy feeling that stick with her/him all day. S/he isn’t enjoying things the way s/he normally would. S/he finds it hard to concentrate on anything.”
Participants in the study were then asked to identify whether the individual described suffered a mental health disorder, and how likely they would be to recommend seeking professional help to the subject in the test.
Both men and women were equally likely to classify Kate as having a mental health disorder, but men were less likely than women to indicate that Jack suffered from depression.
Men were also more likely to recommend that Kate seek professional help than women were, but both men and women were equally likely to make this suggestion for Jack. Participants, particularly men, rated Kate’s case as significantly more distressing, difficult to treat, and deserving of sympathy than they did Jack’s case.
What does all this mean? According to the latest statistics from the National Institutes of Mental Health, women are 70 percent more likely to experience depression over their lifetime compared to men. However, could this number be skewed by how willing society is to recognize men as being depressed and in need of treatment?
Symptoms of clinical depression in women and men are the same, and include such recognizable warning signs as loss of interest in normal activities, persistent sadness, changes in appetite, fatigue or trouble sleeping, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
In reaching out to loved ones who seem in need of help — or finding help for ourselves — we perhaps need to take into account whether we are shrugging off symptoms just because of gender. What may be the most important takeaway here is to remember that yes, symptoms of depression are different for every individual, but no, depression doesn’t discriminate.
Depression Statistics: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1MDD_ADULT.shtml
“People Identify Symptoms of Depression More Readily in Women Than Men” Study Press Release: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-11/plos-pis111212.php