By the year 2020 depression will have moved to the second most disabling illness according to a report made by the World health organization , Harvard University and the World Bank. Depression is bad for women , but it can be deadly for men. Over the course of their lives about 21% of women will experience an episode of major depressive illness (symptom list follows) vs about 13% of men.

These percentages may be deceiving because men often mask their depression through drug and alcohol abuse, workaholism, risk taking behavior,” accidents,” and self –destructive actions 

Depression in men and women differ in many important ways but common features also abound. Let’s start with the common features. To make the diagnosis of depression a health professional must identify in a patient five symptoms out of a possible list of nine physical and emotional conditions. These conditions include

  1. Sad or depressed mood.
  2. Decreased interest in activities or other people.
  3. Preoccupation with guilt or shame.
  4. Decreased energy.
  5. Diminished concentration or focus.
  6. Change in appetite with weight gain or loss. Physical agitation or slowing down of activity. Sleep disturbance, and suicidal or self –destructive ideas or plans.

Five of these conditions must be present nearly everyday for a two week period and be causing the individual significant distress in work or relationships in order to make the diagnosis of major depressive disorder.

Men and women frequently show different symptom presentations with depression. With women the mood symptoms are frequently sad and tearful, while men are more likely to show anger and irritability. Men may mobilize into increased activity while women may show more withdrawal. Men frequently lose weight and have trouble with insomnia while women often gain weight and report increased sleepiness.

Some researchers note that women are more likely to ruminate on what might be wrong with them and seek support from family and friends while men often try to distract themselves with activities and cover up their distress with drugs, alcohol or work. Men may actually have a problem called alexithymia (the inability to put into words the feelings that are being experienced) which complicates their ability to describe their problems and get appropriate help.

Next week: Gender and Depression: Physiological Differences