Men may suffer from depression about as often as women, according to a new study from the University of Michigan. Traditionally, women have been diagnosed with depression about double the rate of men, with approximately 20 percent of women becoming depressed at some point in their lifetime.
In recent years, however, some researchers have wondered if perhaps they haven’t been asking men the right sort of questions.
For example, while women may show their depression through symptoms such as crying or insomnia, male depression may show up as anger, aggression, substance abuse or risk taking, such as gambling or womanizing, said lead author Lisa Martin, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
When these types of symptoms were factored into the research, experts found that about 30 percent of both men and women had been depressed at some point in their lives, according to the study published in JAMA Psychiatry.
The study involved 3,310 women and 2,382 men and is the first to look at gender differences in depression rates in a large national sample, Martin said.
However, not all experts accept that depression manifests differently in men and women, said Peter Kramer, M.D., a clinical professor at Brown University not involved in the new study. He added that the notion of gender differences in depression symptoms is still a new idea.
Kramer noted that rates of bipolar disorder — in which people may cycle back and forth between depression and mania — are similar between men and women. But rates of many other conditions vary by gender.
For example, autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are much more common among males, while eating disorders are more common among females.
Yet Martin believes that changing the criteria for diagnosing depression could lead to more men getting help.
“If we can get men who have depression to recognize it in themselves and get treatment, that is really significant,” Martin said.
Depressed men are typically much less likely to seek treatment, Martin said, partly because some men see asking for help as a sign of weakness.
She added that clinicians tell her that men are not as likely to seek help on their own. Instead, doctors say that men come into their offices only because “they’ve been given ultimatums by their wives or their employers,” who threaten to divorce or fire them unless they change their behavior.
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