Depression – Not A Women’s Disease

t’s Movember and time to speak about mental health.

Depression: the earlier it’s recognised, the better the chances of recovery. Lack of energy, dejection and the feeling of not being worth anything, of not getting up to anything or not being able to afford anything are typical. But not for everyone.

Epidemiological studies show that women are affected by depression two to three times more than men. So men have a lower risk of depression?

Not at all. Men actually have a three times higher suicide rate than women (but at the same time a very low diagnosed depression rate). What that means? It means that men are equally frequently affected by depression but it’s “simply” not recognised and treated less often.

What we have to question is the reason for this under-diagnosis.

Is it because men don’t use the support offered?

Is it because depression doesn’t fit into the norm of “traditional masculinity”?

Is it because men become more defensive when they feel they don’t fit into this standard?

Or is it because the medical system has always seen depression as a female disease and focusses on the female symptoms (and hence men fall through the gap with their non-typical symptoms (gender bias in the “other” direction)?

Depression symptoms in men on the other hand include increased aggression and willingness to use violence, low stress tolerance, inappropriate social behaviour, the feeling of dissatisfaction with oneself, risk taking but also physical complaints including headaches, stomach problems or erectile dysfunction. Men don’t seek help when they observe such changes in themselves because they attribute these changes or their ill-being to (work-related) stress. After all, let’s be honest, our society accepts stress or in the worst case burnout as a mental illness in men much better than a depression. And men are masters of repression. When they have problems, they rarely try to analyse the cause of this conflict, but rather suppress it.

Despite the increase in the understanding of mental disorders, and the increasing use of medical professional treatment offers over the last years, mental disorders are generally still under-diagnosed and under-treated. There are many reasons for this: deficits in the depression diagnostics, inadequate education in the general medical community, inadequate possibilities for aftercare following in-patient management, deficits in the medical professional-patient-communication. And last but not least, deficits on the professional side in regard to gender medicine and gender-sensitive depression diagnostics and treatment: questioning typical male stress symptoms, looking into “male-oriented” coping strategies, offering individualised and personalised therapies, where a male patient is supported, i.e. coached, by a therapist rather than controlled and directed.

But depression prevention starts much earlier: we should question whether the statistics that state that twice as many teenage girls as boys suffer from depression. Or are these numbers already tinted by our gender-biased view point?

Society and social media tell our children and adolescents that they should always be happy and come out a winner. Boys are still taught not to cry, showing empathy is considered unmanly, boys are winners, they must be popular.

Childhood and adolescent are not always carefree times, and our children can be hurt or challenged. We need to be honest to our children and have more realistic expectations for them, so they learn to have realistic expectations for themselves. We need to teach them that it’s ok to be scared or to struggle, to have feelings and to show them. And most importantly, we need to teach them that it’s ok to ask for help, especially our sons.

Because depression can be so life-threatening in men (they are three times more successful in committing suicide than women), teaching children and adolescents resilience and providing timely crisis intervention can literally be vital.

Posted on November 02, 2020 by Luitgard Holzleg

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