Nearly 10% of all American adults suffer from some form of depression, whether it be major depression, dysthymia, or bipolar disorder. Depressive mental illnesses are extremely common, affecting 3.5% of American men and 5.92% of American women in 2019 alone. But symptoms will look different between men and women. In this blog, we’ll break down the differences in depression between men and women, as well as who is more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
Is Depression More Common in Men or Women?
Women are diagnosed with depression at nearly twice the rate of men. Some studies have attributed this to hormonal fluctuations. Higher levels of estrogen seem to have an impact on depression, and the hormonal fluctuation that occurs during menopause or menstrual cycles can exacerbate depression.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that men being diagnosed with depression at half the rate of women does not necessarily correlate to the amount of men experiencing depression. Other studies have found that men are 3-4 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Because the symptoms of depression look different for men than they do for women, men may not recognize that they have depression and may not get an evaluation. Societal pressures to repress their emotions and sadness can also impact male depression diagnoses.
This is why it’s important to understand the differences in depression symptoms between men and women.
Symptoms of Depression in Women
In addition to being more commonly diagnosed with depression, women also report experiencing seasonal depression more often than men. The symptoms of depression can vary from person to person, but may include different emotional, physical, or behavioral symptoms on average than men with depression. These include:
Feelings of Guilt, Hopelessness, or Worthlessness
In the midst of a depressive episode, women seem more likely to fixate on guilt. They may regret certain choices or ruminate on things they could have done better. Hopelessness can also be a common feeling when it comes to depression — despairing that things may never get better. Many women with depression also tend to struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness, or they may be hyper self-critical.
If you have depression, you know that your good day could turn on a dime when a depressive episode is triggered. Mood swings are common amongst anyone with depression, and especially women. A woman with depression may have a nice day one day and, the next day, struggle to find joy in any of their usual activities. Crying for no apparent reason, often not even a reason they can articulate, also happens often with depression.
Poor Impulse Control
In the midst of depression, women often feel that they have lost their sense of control. They feel as though their life is simply happening to them. They may act impulsively in an attempt to seize back some semblance of control. Often, self-harming behaviors come back to wanting to have control over something in their lives. Impulse shopping or overeating can also be distractions from the feelings of depression and a loss of control.
Changes in Appetite
Women with depression often experience changes in appetite. Some may find themselves with a decreased appetite, struggling to muster up the energy to get something to eat. Others may overeat as a way of numbing the feelings of depression.
Symptoms of Depression in Men
Because men do not have a menstrual cycle or menopause, they typically experience less fluctuation of hormones. Men are also often socially conditioned not to show their emotions. This can lead to symptoms of depression that look different from those in women, such as:
Anger and Irritability
Men are often conditioned to express anger before other emotions. Anger is a secondary emotion — one often attached to a sense of hopelessness or fear. Men suffering from depressive episodes may find themselves more irritable than usual or having bouts of anger.
Difficulty With Focus
Men can have a difficult time concentrating as a symptom of depression. They may also experience memory issues. In the midst of depression, it is easy for men to feel scattered, like they can’t hold onto their focus. Racing thoughts are also common symptoms of depression among men.
Substance Abuse and Risky Behavior
Men are more likely to drink alcohol to access or abuse drugs in order to numb the pain of depression. Like women, men also experience poor impulse control as a symptom of depression. However, this poor impulse control often manifests in the form of reckless or dangerous behavior.
Men with depression may have less self-preservation during their depressive episodes. They may use reckless behavior as a way to have heightened emotions and distract themselves from the heaviness of their depression.
Where changes in appetite tend to be common with women experiencing depression, digestive issues can be more of an issue with men experiencing depression. Men may notice that they have an upset stomach when feeling anxious or depressed or that they may feel constipated. This can, of course, impact their appetite. If you experience digestive issues in the midst of depression, you may not want to eat as much.
Nuances in the Gender Discussion
These are examples of a few symptoms that tend to be more common in women and symptoms that tend to be more common in men. However, it should be noted that these symptoms are not specific to one gender or the other. Women may experience anger and irritability in the midst of depressive episodes. Men may experience mood swings. Just because one symptom is more common with one gender than the other does not exclude it from both.
This research also does not take into account for the most part people whose gender does not fall within the binary. A nonbinary or trans man who has a menstrual cycle will experience fluctuations in hormones which can exacerbate those mood swings or feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or self-criticism. If a nonbinary person has presented in a way that is more masculine or feminine for most of their life, they may be subject to some of the social conditioning that men or women have faced.
Nonbinary and trans individuals also have their own environmental factors when it comes to depression, such as a higher rate of suicide due to not being accepted or feeling safe at home.
Gender is just one factor that can influence depression and the way that you exhibit depressive symptoms. Regardless of your external factors, if you have depression, there is help. Contact Rivia today to find mental health clinicians who can help you manage your symptoms and discuss a treatment plan.