Gender alone cannot determine what someone’s experience with depression will be like. Mental illness affects every individual differently, and dealing with depression is a very personal experience. However, depression symptoms tend to differ between men and women in some important ways. Men tend to exhibit aggression and anger rather than sadness, which can make it difficult for loved ones to identify as a symptom of depression.
Understanding some of these key differences in depression between men and women can help us to realize when those around us may be struggling.
Symptoms Versus Coping
Individuals with depression can experience a wide variety of signs and symptoms that impact their mood and daily life. In addition to those, individuals will commonly exhibit coping mechanisms and depression-influenced behaviors. These aren’t necessarily directly caused by the illness, but are a response to symptoms.
Men and women can show different symptoms as well as different coping mechanisms. Depression can often go undiagnosed in men because signs tend to be downplayed, there is more reluctance to discuss symptoms, and a general resistance to mental health treatment.
Both men and women commonly experience these symptoms of depression:
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Difficulty enjoying activities that were once pleasurable
- Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, or sadness
While these symptoms are commonly recognized as depression, men frequently will engage in certain problematic behaviors or experience issues that may indicate depression but are not easily identified as such. These can include:
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Substance use disorder
- Medical issues
- Overindulging in escapism
Unfortunately, depression can be particularly dangerous with men because ideas of traditional masculinity encourage men to limit the expression of emotions and avoid seeking help. These societal factors likely contribute to the higher statistical rates of women being diagnosed with depression.
Here’s a closer look at some of the more common signs of depression that tend to be exhibited by men more often than women.
Women, generally speaking, are more likely to exhibit overt sadness and may be more willing to discuss their emotions. While many men with depression may open up and talk about depression symptoms, they are more likely to exhibit anger and a short temper as a behavior related to depression. Overt displays of irritability and anger are also typically more socially accepted among men, which means many people may fail to identify these types of behaviors as an indicator of depression.
Engaging in Risky Behaviors
Men with depression are more likely to engage in risky or dangerous behaviors such as binge drinking, gambling, sex, dangerous driving, and other physically or financially dangerous behaviors. These kinds of behaviors are often used to mask or distract from symptoms of depression.
Substance Use Disorder
Both men and women may turn to alcohol or other drugs as a coping mechanism for depression symptoms. Interestingly, this is actually less likely to be identified as a sign of depression in men than it is in women.
For women, substance use disorder usually arises as a consequence of depression, while men tend to experience substance abuse leading up to depression onset. This suggests that men may be more likely to experience substance use disorder as a contributor to depression.
Severe stress can not only cause mental problems, but physical problems as well. Men struggling with depression and high levels of stress can experience gastrointestinal issues, headaches, and a variety of other ailments. Physical manifestations of depression can also include a racing heartbeat, fatigue, and significant weight gain or loss.
Overindulging in Escapism
Overindulging in escapist behaviors can often signal that one desires to escape from reality. Escapist behaviors can vary greatly, but they often require an unsustainable or unhealthy amount of time and/or money. Some escapist behaviors frequently exhibited by men include video games, gambling and sports betting, working out, pornography, and binge-watching films or shows.