It’s well known men and women can behave like different species, so it should be no surprise that depression affects us differently.
On this day, World Mental Health Day 2014, it should be remembered that one in seven Australian will experience depression in their lifetime. According to the Australian Psychological Society, 1 in 5 Australian women will suffer depression; the ratio is 1 in 8 for men.
How the illness shows itself in each sex, and the different effects it has on them, are significant.
“There are general symptoms of depression affecting both men and women including depressed mood, lack of motivation, and loss of pleasure, appetite and sleep disturbances and difficulty concentrating,” says psychologist Ronit Joel of Malvern, Victoria.
“Things start to differ in the ways men and women tend to express or exhibit these symptoms. Men have been found to report more symptoms of anger, aggression, substance abuse and risk taking compared to women. Women are more likely to report social withdrawal, sleep difficulties and feelings of distress and sadness. Women are also more likely than men to exhibit behaviours such as crying,” Ms Joel says.
There are other differences: in Australia, depressed women are more likely to attempt suicide than depressed men, but men are more likely to complete suicide attempts, she says. “There are various reasons for this statistic mostly involving differences in gender roles, help-seeking behaviour and that men tend to choose more lethal methods than women.”
The differences reflect complex factors, she says: socialisation, gender roles and differing perceptions of what is appropriate behaviour for men and women.
“To begin with, women are more likely than men to report their symptoms and seek treatment. This may contribute to women being diagnosed more frequently than men,” Ms Joel says. She believes that, in general, women express their feelings and problems openly and men tend to suppress their emotions because, she suspects, of a social stigma that men displaying feelings is unmanly.
Student Michael Van Breukelen, 21, from Sydney, struggles to explain how he truly feels and, even though he does not suffer from depression, sees emotional vulnerability as a sign of weakness. “I’ve pretty much grown up thinking that it was shameful for a man to show emotions; you weren’t a man if you cried,” he told The Newsroom.
Further examples of the different effects that depression has on men and women are:
• Women sleep too much; men have very little sleep.
• Women question themselves, eg “Am I loveable enough?”; men question whether or not they’re loved enough by everyone else.
• Women use food, friends and love as a means of self-medication; men use alcohol, sex and sport to self-medicate.
• Women are more prone to blame themselves; men tend to blame others.
• Women try to avoid conflict; men are more likely to create conflict.
• Women have a tendency to feel guilty for what they do; men feel ashamed of who they are.
According to Beyond Blue, an Australian organisation offering advice and support to people suffering depression and anxiety, “It can be difficult for people with depression to take that first step in getting help. It’s important to seek help early – the sooner a person gets treatment, the sooner they can recover.”
If you feel depressed and overwhelmed, expert free advice is available from Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute, another world-class organisation helping identify and treat depression. If you (or someone you know) is having suicidal thoughts, phone Lifeline immediately: Lifeline on 13 11 14 – Heba Dandachi
Top photo from Miserlou’s Flickr photostream.