MENTAL HEALTH ∙ 4 minutes read

Do men experience depression differently to women?

By Joseph Lee | Medically reviewed by Dr Luke Pratsides

There are many physical differences between males and females, but one thing that links us together as humans is our ability to experience emotions, feel sadness, happiness and everything in between. Sometimes life throws its worst at us, other times we’re flying high experiencing pure joy and bliss.

Whatever your gender, changes in mood from time to time are inevitable but prolonged periods of low mood could be signs that someone is suffering from depression.  More than just having an ‘off day’ or feeling a little irritable, depression is a common but serious mood disorder. As a prevalent mental illness that seriously impacts physical and mental health, depression symptoms affect how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily life and activities such as sleeping, eating, or working.

Depression is not only associated with enormous personal suffering but also a societal economic burden, as it’s estimated that 5% of adults suffer from depression worldwide. According to many studies, women are more likely to suffer from a lifelong depressive disorder than men. Although the susceptibility to depression is affected by a range of hereditary, environmental, and hormonal risk factors, some genetic studies suggest that gender differences in depression are evident. 

Male and female depression demographics

Women are more likely than men to report symptoms of common mental disorders (CMD) such as depression, with one study showing one in five women had reported CMD symptoms, compared with one in eight men. Women were also more likely than men to report severe symptoms of CMD, as 10% of women surveyed reported severe symptoms, whilst only 6% of men reported severity.

Mental depressive disorder (MDD), or depression, is a disease that impairs cognitive function and induces vegetative symptoms, such as disturbed sleep or appetite. MDD occurs about twice as often in women than it does in men and is estimated to affect one in six adults in their lifetime. 

Do men and women experience the same type of depression?

Men are unable to experience some types of depression experienced by women. Postnatal depression affects up to 12% of women in the UK after they’ve given birth and the risk of developing other severe depressive illnesses also increases after childbirth

Sadness and self-criticism are significantly more severe in women than in men who are experiencing depression. Suggesting that women have a higher propensity for emotion may only increase the mindset that men feel like they should not let depression affect them. But depression is far from just a feature for female lives, it can affect any gender. 

How do men and women cope with depression?

Our bodies are remarkable machines of living tissue which adapt to try to cope with the stresses and strains we put them through. This is no different for mental health disorders, where the coping style of each gender role shows how men and women may naturally deal with depression. 

In gender role theory, the typical feminine style of coping is to deal with the emotion associated with the stressor, whereas the masculine style is to deal directly with the stressor. Essentially, this means that when an issue arises, females are more likely to focus on the emotion and the male is more likely to focus on the problem. 

Interestingly, there is evidence to show that emotion-focused coping mechanisms such as self-blame and rumination are associated with higher levels of depression than the masculine problem-focused approach. However, most of the research suggests that diagnostic criteria for depression fails to include a male depressive syndrome, which may mean that depressive symptoms in male problem-focused individuals have remained hidden. 

The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service provides psychological treatments to people in the UK. In 2019-2020, 376,848 women aged 18-35 accessed the service whereas only 178,280 men joined the treatment. This suggests that men are less likely to engage in interventions such as psychotherapy. In this instance, the event of a man seeking help might be interpreted as incompetence and dependence, values that some men may not want to associate themselves with. Research has also shown that individuals who adhere to the masculine role have negative attitudes towards using counselling services and other talking therapies, where articulating emotions are prevalent. 

What stops men from reporting depression 

Men are twice as likely to wait two years for their next doctor's appointment than women, which opens up the argument that men seek medical help from their GP less frequently. Due to societal ideals of masculinity, men may also be reluctant to report their true depressive experiences once they make it into the doctor’s office. 

Traditional depressive symptoms such as sadness and crying, are also opposite characteristics of traditional masculinity and could lead to masked depression, where men cover up the extent of their depression. Lack of male experiences around depression may also mean that some symptoms are not currently being included in diagnostic criteria.

How to get help with depression 

There are a variety of ways you can get help for depression by using accessible and readily available services. Here are three tools that are ready to use, set up to help you get better:

Depression Self Assessment 

If you think you’re experiencing depression, or know someone who is showing signs of depressive behaviour, this self-assessment tool is a good place to help you understand where you’re at. The series of questions is designed to see if your depressive episodes are something that needs further diagnosis - take the Depression Self Assessment here.

Hub of Hope 

National mental health charity Chasing the Stigma have developed an online resource to help you find the help you need. Hub of Hope enables people to search for mental health charities in their local area or find one that can help with a specific problem.

See your GP

Even though men may want to seek medical health or care about health issues, they often find it difficult to express their fears. This could cast some light on why women are more likely to report common mental disorder symptoms than men. GPs and doctors are there to help you get the treatment you need with professionalism and without judgment. The earlier you speak to your GP, the quicker they can help. You can also access mental health support 24 hrs a day if you feel you are in an emergency mental health crisis you can call NHS 111 or attend any accident and emergency department in a hospital to speak to a mental health professional. 

The bottom line 

Depression, associated with prolonged periods of low mood and worthlessness, is a common mental health disorder that affects both men and women. Women are more likely to report depression and can develop some types of depression, from hormones and giving birth, that men cannot develop. Support is always available through your GP, the charity sector or in an emergency 24-hour support is available through NHS 111 or attending any accident and emergency department. 

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