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The Gender Gap: Depression in Men vs. Women

Depression doesn’t have a face. It has millions of faces. In 2016 an estimated 16.2 million American adults had at least one major depressive episode. Of those, 4.8% were male and 8.5% female.

Why are more women than men depressed?

Male vs. female depression statistics are worth a closer look! The potential causes and symptoms of depression can vary wildly between the two genders, suggesting each may need a different course of treatment.

Why Do Men Experience Depression?

Stress

Everyone experiences stress, but men tend to handle it differently than women. According to the American Psychological Association, 9% of men do nothing to manage their stress. (Only 4% of women said the same.)

Even the source of stress differs between men and women. More men cite work as a major source of stress—76% compared to 65% of women. Women blame money and the economy as their biggest stressors—79% compared to 73% of men). Men may also feel stress from major life changes or losing loved ones, which can lead to depression.

Physical Illness

Depression isn’t always a standalone disease. Sometimes it occurs because of a serious medical condition. Illnesses linked to depression include:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s

They’re linked because of either the emotional toll or as a side effect of medication. Unfortunately, depression can make it even more difficult to cope with an existing medical condition.

Genes

Several studies confirm that family history is a prominent risk factor for depressive symptoms. One of them looked at the role of stress and family history in lifetime depressive episodes. The researchers confirmed that “positive family history participants had more lifetime episodes of depression than their negative family history counterparts.” In other words, if you have a relative with depression, you have a greater risk of developing depression yourself.

Why Do Women Experience Depression?

male vs female depression statistics

Statistics show that just by being female, you increase the risk of developing a depressive disorder. There are nearly twice as many women with depression as men. The theory is that certain biological and psychological conditions may make females naturally more prone to depression. These include:

Stress

Women are more likely than men to report having a great deal of stress. On a 10-point scale, 28% of women versus 20% of men scored their stress as an 8, 9, or 10.

Stressed women tend to eat more—particularly unhealthy foods—to numb their feelings. They also tend to skip exercise and blame it on lack of willpower. Whether it’s the difference in perception or how they manage their stress, there’s no denying women’s stress levels put them at an increased risk for developing depressive symptoms.

Hormones

Women’s hormonal fluctuations are necessary for successful pregnancies, but they may also be the reason for higher depression rates. The Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience published an article that said, “the variation in ovarian hormone levels and particularly decreases in estrogen may contribute to the increased prevalence of depression and anxiety in women.” It goes on to say that preventing dips in estrogen may protect women from depressive symptoms.

Physical Illness

Women, too, can feel the weight of a chronic illness or disability. The Illinois Department of Public Health says that “depression is more likely to occur along with certain illnesses, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Hormonal disorders.”

Hormonal disorders, like hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can cause:

  • Thinning hair
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Acne

These symptoms can damage your self-esteem, putting you at risk for depressive symptoms.

Longer Life Span

Women tend to outlive men, making them more statistically susceptible to grief and loneliness. This factor alone doesn’t explain the rate of depression in women, but it may contribute to higher reported occurrences.

Genes

Genetics can be the reason for male depression, but the genes that lead to depression in men aren’t the same genes that express in women. One study concluded that “the brain transcriptional profile of MDD [major depressive disorder] differs greatly by sex.” The August 2018 Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences confirms that when it comes to the genes regulated by depression or chronic stress, there’s “surprisingly low” overlap between the sexes.

Symptoms of Depression

Most of the symptoms of depression are the same in men as they are in women. The main difference is emotional expression. Women show sadness and fatigue, which slow down their body movements. Men get riled up. They may seem calm one moment but are quick to snap and lash out. Men are also more likely to take risks, like gambling or buying expensive items, during depressive episodes.

Symptoms of depression in men include:

  • Anger or aggressiveness
  • Loss of interest in work, family, or other hobbies
  • Change in sexual desire and/or performance
  • Excessive sleep or insomnia
  • Change in eating habits
  • Physical pain
  • Digestive issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Engaging in high-risk behavior
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

Symptoms of depression in women include:

  • Sadness
  • Feelings of guilt or helplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Slowed movement or talking
  • Loss of interest in work, family, or other hobbies
  • Difficulty sleeping, staying asleep, or waking up
  • Change in eating habits
  • Weight gain
  • Physical pain
  • Digestive issues
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

Types of Depression

Due to hormonal changes, women can experience different types of depression that are unique to them.

  1. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more severe case of PMS. Women with PMDD experience debilitating symptoms, such as:
  • Irritability
  • Bloating
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Depressed mood
  • Suicidal thoughts
  1. Perinatal depression can occur during or after pregnancy. You may know it as postpartum depression (PPD), which can be grounds for serious concern. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion can make it difficult for you to properly care for your baby.
  2. Abnormal periods, trouble sleeping, mood swings, and hot flashes are normal signs of perimenopause. Sadness, irritability, and anxiety are not. These are more serious signs of perimenopausal depression, and they need to be addressed.

Depression Treatment in Men & Women

Men and women typically have the same depression treatment options, commonly medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. If these treatments don’t reduce symptoms or they’re hard for you to tolerate, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) could be a good option to explore! It’s drug-free and non-invasive, and the FDA has approved it to treat depression—even treatment-resistant depression. The 18-to-19-minute sessions stimulate cells in the affected region of your brain, leading to improvements in your depression symptoms.

Depression is depression. While depressive disorders may be more prevalent in women and some of the warning signs are different between men and women, everyone deserves treatment and the support they need to live happy, healthy lives.

If you or a loved one is suffering with depression, give HPR Treatment Centers a call at 800-688-3609 to learn more about TMS therapy. Help is within reach—regardless of gender.

About Valon Ford

Valon was born and raised in Michigan but now makes her home in New Jersey, where she works with HPR Treatment Centers as a Clinical Specialist. Valon is also a full time nursing student at Jersey College School of Nursing, CPR-certified, and holds a certificate as a Nursing Assistant. She has worked in various roles in healthcare for over 12 years, including pharma, oncology, care coordination, acute care, rehabilitation, billing and authorizations.

She is married to her high school sweetheart and is a proud mother of eight biological children.

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