When Definitions Change, Men Just As Likely As Women To Be Depressed
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new study says the traditional tools used to diagnose depression work best with women, but leave many depression cases in men undiscovered. However, when doctors expanded the symptoms of depression to include aggression, substance abuse and risky behavior, they discovered that men were just as likely to be depressed as women.
It’s currently believed that women are up to 70 percent more likely than men to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, leading some to refer to the condition as a “women’s disease.” This new study, conducted by health policy researchers from the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University, is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Lisa A. Martin, PhD led the study and says she wanted to understand why depression has been so widely accepted as a disease which primarily affects women.
“For many decades depression researchers have been looking for an answer to the question, ‘What makes women more vulnerable?’, but I wanted to turn the question upside down and ask, ‘Why aren’t more men diagnosed with depression?’” said Martin in a statement.
Some of the common symptoms associated with depression are sadness, insomnia, feeling guilty or losing interest in hobbies – symptoms which are often observed in women. When the list of symptoms was expanded to include aggression, irritability and substance abuse, they discovered that more men may be depressed than originally presumed.
The researchers then developed two scales — one expanded yet gender-neutral and one which uses more masculine terms to define depression. Armed with the new scales, Martin then used them to measure nearly 5,700 Americans who had previously taken part in a long-term mental health study conducted by Harvard Medical School.
The National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) gathered information from Americans over a ten year span, 41 percent of which were men. When these participants were analyzed under the gender-neutral scale, and 30.6 percent of men and 33.3 percent of women were found to be depressed. When the same participants were analyzed under the ‘masculine scale,’ and 26.3 percent of men and 21.9 percent of women were found to be depressed.
While this study debunks the myth that depression is a disease for women, it also sheds light on a troubling fact. Though men are just as likely as to experience depressive episodes, it is only typically only identified when defined in a certain way. Broadening this definition could potentially help millions of men who believe they merely have an issue with their anger. On the other hand, others fear that broadening the definition too far could result in misdiagnoses.
When the issue of definitions collides with gender differences, some cases of depression are likely missed. For instance, women are considered to be more open about their emotions and therefore may have no qualms with admitting to feelings of depression, crying or sharing their feelings with others. Men, on the other hand, often act on the same feelings in a different way — either by going on drinking benders or taking their aggression out on a loved one. Martin and her team seek to expand the definition of depression from only an internalized condition to include an externalized one, thereby correctly identifying those instances where it manifests itself in currently unfamiliar patterns.
“These findings could lead to important changes in the way depression is conceptualized and measured,” reads the published paper.