Gender Differences Impact Diagnosis of Depression

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

“Men are from mars, women are from Venus” is the title of a book written by John Gray, a relationship counselor and author from the United States. Gray highlighted how relationship problems between males and females could be caused by gender differences, especially in terms of how each handles stress differently.

The idea of male and female differences can be seen in a new study from the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom that showed how symptoms of depression are more readily identified in women as opposed to males. The group of investigators found that identifying symptoms of depression was dependent on the gender of the identifier and the person who was depressed. Researchers believe that gender stereotypes could possibly impact the public’s view of people who are suffering from depression.

The findings of the study were featured in the journal PLoS ONE.

“Poor mental health literacy and negative attitudes toward individuals with mental health disorders may impede optimal help-seeking for symptoms of mental ill-health. The present study examined the ability to recognize cases of depression as a function of respondent and target gender, as well as individual psychological differences in attitudes toward persons with depression,” wrote the researchers in the paper.

In the research project, the scientists looked at two fictitious subjects, Jack and Kate. With non-clinical terms, the two were described as having the same exact feelings related to depression. However, the only difference was that one participant was male and the other participant was female. Sample language from the test included: “For the past two weeks, Kate/Jack has been feeling really down. S/he wakes up in the morning with a flat, heavy feeling that stick with her/him all day. S/he isn’t enjoying things the way s/he normally would. S/he finds it hard to concentrate on anything.”

The participants of the study were then asked to determine which individual suffered from a mental health disorder and how they would go about resolving the issue. The results showed that both females and males would identify Kate as having the mental health disorder. Furthermore, more females than males would identify Jack as suffering form depression.

The participants also differed in their take on how to offer mental health counseling. Males had a greater likelihood of encouraging Kate to find professional help than their female counterparts. In addition, both females and males had the same likelihood of suggesting that Jack seek professional help.

Lastly, the team of investigators discovered that perspectives on depression were related to anti-scientific attitudes and skepticism on psychiatry. They believe that it is necessary to take into account gender stereotypes and biases on mental health. As such, the researchers believe that these results can be used in terms of improving mental health literacy.

“The present results underscore the role of individual differences in mental health literacy. Initiatives that consider the impact of gender stereotypes as well as individual differences may enhance mental health literacy, which in turn is associated with improved help-seeking behaviors for symptoms of mental ill-health,” wrote the scientists in the paper. “In the future, it will be important to more carefully assess inter-individual differences in mental health literacy as a function of both the target and the respondent.”

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