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How Men and Women Respond Differently to Depression

© 2009 by Lawrence Todryk. Psy.D., M.B.A.

Social scientists estimate that approximately eleven million people are struggling with depression each year. Research indicates that the combined affect of lost productivity and medical expense due to depression costs the United States over 47 billion dollars per year. This is on par with heart disease.

Most depressed individuals do not seek treatment and go undiagnosed. It is estimated that between 60 and 80 % of the people with depression never get help. Men, women, and their families are reluctant to acknowledge their depression. This is unfortunate in that current research indicates that approximately 80 to 90% of depressed individuals can get relief with a combination of therapy and medication.

Depression is silent and insidious in that it slowly develops with time and is not vivid such as a cancerous tumor in a woman's breast or cancerous prostrate gland. Depression that is not resolved is progressive and may be life threatening. Not addressing the depression leads to other behaviors that have negative impact on the depressed person's life. Depression greatly inhibits a person's ability to function. It is the combination of decrease in ability to function and participating in behaviors that are self-defeating that appears to lead to life threatening situations. These behaviors-- drinking alcohol, drugs, food, excessive work and sex-- are designed to avoid responsibility for resolving their emotional pain.

Other symptoms include loss of interest in life in areas where you use to enjoy. Are you having a hard time making decisions? Do you lack motivation in life or do you have push yourself to do things? Do you feel that life is not worth living?

Depression's symptoms include a chronic depressed mood and feeling of sadness. There is a central belief around feeling hopelessness and helplessness. A pattern of sleep disturbance -- increased or decreased -- and an increase or decrease in weight is common. A. Beck, a prominent psychiatrist, found that depressed people tend to have a negative view of self, the world, and their future. Another symptom associated with depression is difficulty with concentration and decision making. Depressed individuals are significantly more likely to attempt suicide and be successful in committing suicide.

Suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in the US and approximately 30,000 people commit suicide per year. Men commit suicide three times more than women do. Women attempt suicide four times more than men do. The higher rate of successful suicide is due to the lethality of the method used by the men; this includes the use of guns and high-risk behavior such as jumping off a building. Women tend to use less threatening means like drug over dose and poison.

Age is another risk factor. The suicide rate increases over 45 years of age and continues upward. Men over 85 commit suicide at the rate of 50 per 100,000. That fastest growing rate of suicide is with the 15- to 24-year old young men. For the African American men the greatest suicide rate is males 15 to 24 years old.

Women tend to request treatment for depression more than men at a ratio of 2 to 1. Research indicates that the lifetime incidence of major depression is 21 % for women and 12.7% for men. Men and women tend to manifest pathology differently. Drug dependency among men 9.2% and for women is 5.9%. Alcoholism among women is 8.2% and among men is 20.1%. Women are twice as likely to experience simple phobia and generalized anxiety disorders.

Terrence Real, a psychotherapist and author, in his "I Don't Want to Talk About It" proposes that men may experience two types of depression, overt and covert depression. Overt depression is indicated with symptoms that were already presented in this discussion. Covert depression is when the associated feelings of depression including emotional pain is repressed and avoided. Terrence proposes that one common link both forms of depression for men is the tendency to act out their aggression. Covertly depressed men tend to act out their aggression outwardly toward others. This is evident in the fact that 90% of incarcerated people are men. Overtly depressed men, in contrast, tend act out their depression toward themselves, which is evident in the high success rate of men who commit suicide. In order for covertly depressed men to heal they will need to address the pain they have been avoiding.

Men who are covertly depressed tend to repress their pain and protect themselves. They will tend to use alcohol, drugs, sex, excessive work, adrenalin rush (excitement) and food to move away from their feelings. Men compared to women are less likely to be aware of their emotions.

My father very seldom talked about his feelings and his predominant emotion was anger. He rarely cried or was vulnerable. In my own life process I faced depression. I followed in my father's path. I was an angry young man and my anger covered my pain. My career was my way avoiding looking into my sadness about my life and my self-concept. Men in my family drank significantly and over worked. I am still getting acquainted with my feelings and my inner Spirit and learning how to lead a balanced life.

Some suggestions for contemplation and self-development.

1. Was your father or mother overtly depressed or covertly depressed? How did he/she act this out in their life? What did his/her depression cost him/her and the family?

2. Are you doing the same? Are you presently depressed (covertly/overtly)?

3. Are you aware of your feelings and are you managing them in a productive manner?

If you find that you need support for addressing these questions, getting the support of an integration group or a qualified mental health professional is suggested.

For a consultation and to start the healing process, Call 224-577-5308 or text 224-577-5308 for an appointment. Dr. Lawrence Todryk is a licensed psychologist who received his doctorate in clinical psychology and a certificate in substance abuse counseling from Adler School of Professional Psychology. He is in private practice at Grayslake Counseling Center, Integrative Psychological Services, Inc.