Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Differences Between Men and Women in Their Expression of Depressed Feelings

Depression is a serious condition that impacts every aspect of a person's life. Depression is individualistic and is not the same for men and women. There are many factors that contribute to depression from sexual hormones to social pressures to how one responds to stress. Overall, depression is twice as common in women as compared to men. According to the National Mental Health Association one in eight women will experience clinical depression during their lifetime.
Common complaints of major depression include: feeling depressed; loss of interest or pleasure in activities they use to enjoy; feelings of guilt, hopelessness and worthlessness; suicidal thoughts or recurrent thoughts of death; sleep disturbances (sleep more or less); appetite and weight changes; difficulty concentrating; and, lack of energy and fatigue. Women, also, have a higher incidence of thyroid problems, and hypothyroidism can cause depression.
Women and men tend to cope with depression differently. Women ruminate. This includes crying to relieve emotional tension, trying to figure out why they are depressed, and talking to their friends about their depression. However rumination has been found to maintain depression and even make it worse. Women tend to talk and talk about their feelings to others until the anger and depression is drained off or they seek out professional help.
Men tend to bottle up their feelings. They distract themselves from their feelings of depression by keeping busy. They are raised with such social myths as , "big boys do not cry" or "do not show your feelings as the other kids will think you are a sissy."   

Men tend to let the angry and depressed feelings build over a long period of time until they either explode like Mt. Vesuvius or take some dramatic action to get rid of their feelings of anger/depression. Male depression is far more likely to be deadly, as seen in the recent headlines that sadly demonstrate this point in the recent case of the man in Virginia who killed his wife and one son before killing himself.
A major factor in the differences between how men and women express their depression is the way they are socialized in their roles. Most women in our country have been raised to be other-oriented. Throughout life, women advise their daughters to be good children, good wives, and good mothers. Such value-laden advice essentially says, "Your worth comes from what you do in relation to other people, and not from whom you are as a unique individual." This value is very different from one that says, "Create and pursue your own independent dreams, even if it means not marrying or having children."   

The cultural value for women is "Be-other-oriented and conform to expectations of others" in the traditional female acculturation, is it any wonder that women are diagnosed as depressed nearly twice as often as men. The typical man in this culture is raised to achievement-oriented, having been taught from childhood that worth is determined by accomplishment. It should be no surprise that men have high professional expectations and strives to achieve them, even at the risk of his family relationships. 

For as long as circumstances permit him to achieve, he can earn great rewards in the form of approval, financial success, professional status and so forth.   If this man is somehow blocked from achieving, the central focus of his life is lost. The significant point here is: our values can create rigidities in people that make them a candidate for depression if those values are challenged in some way.
Another impediment to men seeking help for depression is the strong stigma that men attach to professional care of any kind. Again, our roles in society are, also, a factor. Women are responsible for caring for a sick child or spouse more often than men. When they take time off from work, co-workers tend to understand, and forgive the imposition.  On the other hand, one study found that "male workers who took some time off were rated as less performing than those who did not."
Women tend to internalize emotional pain, saying to themselves that they must have done something to cause the problem, while men, tend to externalize emotional pain. They are more inclined to see others as obstacles that prevent them from reaching their goals and feel victimized. Men discharge their distress through action.   Hence the statistics, which show that women attempt suicide more often than men, yet males, actually kill themselves at a rate three to four times higher than females.
Women process their experiences with their friends, and are much more likely to tell a physician how they feel and cooperate in the prescribed treatment. As a result, women get better treatment for their depression. Admitting to being depressed is the ultimate shame for many men because depression carries, to many, a double stain--the stigma of mental illness and also the stigma of 'feminine' emotionality. Many men treat their depression with alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant. For someone who is all ready depressed, alcohol greatly enhances the depth of the depression. Several studies have shown that alcohol impairs the senses and clouds judgment, predisposing a person to impulsive suicide. Impairment from alcohol also masks inhibitions and allows people who have planned suicide the opportunity to initiate the act.
In conclusion, as a society, we must admit and accept the reality, and the normality of male depression.  We need to work harder to give men the same helping hand that many women get simply because women are more willing to acknowledge their depression and seek out professional help.

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