Gender differences in depression: How men & women deal with a common problem

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How many men in your life deal with depression? What about women? Do you feel like one sex talks about it more than the other? Do you notice any particular gender differences in depression?

In my personal experience, depression is something that affects both sexes. I know men who deal with it. (This can also be evidenced in the media, with the tragic deaths of Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, and Anthony Bourdain, to name a few.)

I also know women who live with depression. I’m one of them, along with close friends and family members of mine. Carrie Fisher is a famous example that sticks in my mind. She lived LOUDLY and was not shy about her struggles.

Do men and women seem to deal with depression differently?

I try not to subscribe to traditional gender roles or concepts of gender, but I think they are important to discuss in a conversation about mental health. In this article, I’ll offer some statistics about mental health, some traditional thoughts on gender, the dangers of Man Up, and talk about how men and women face depression.

Gender differences in depression, depression

Statistics on Mental Health

According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, depression is extremely common.

*Depression affects about 17.3 million adults in America each year

*1.9 children have been diagnosed with depression

*It is more common in women

*There is a strong correlation between depression and heart disease

I like breaking down statistics to make them easier to understand and digest.  Let’s take the first one for example.

The holiday party example

Depression affects about 7.1% of the population according to the statistic in the article I linked. That might sound like a small number, but I always use the office holiday party example  if you are at a holiday party with 100 people, 7 suffer from depression.  At a party of 200 people, 14 are affected. When you look at it that way, the number seems a lot more significant.

Let’s look at the other two. According to the article, depression is more common in women then men.  In fact, it is twice as common.

Why is that? Is that accurate? Or is it just twice as likely to be reported by women than by men? I’ll go into this more in a bit.

Depression is a very physical illness.  It can lead to heart disease in 64% of people with depression. I have written previously about the physical nature of depression, so check that out!

Traditional Thoughts on Gender

When you bring up the topic of men versus women, people usually have a very strong opinion. It’s a hot topic that only gets more contentious by the year.

Traditionally, men are seen as more logical.  They tend toward stoicism, and don’t generally speak about their emotions.

Men are responsible for going out, getting jobs, and supporting their family.  In 2019, it is more common than ever for men to stay home and for women to be breadwinners. (In 2017, 41% of American women were reported to be the breadwinners in their relationships, according to the Center for American Progress.)

Are we making progress?

So, as you can see, things are slowly becoming more equal, but men still face a lot of pressure to perform financially.

Women, on the other hand, are emotional creatures by nature. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, and tend to be more open about their mental health. Furthermore, it is more accepted for women to be open about it. (Disclaimer: I am just speaking to tradition in American culture. I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing.)

Whereas men are pressured to perform financially, women face a larger pressure than ever to perform domestically.  In fact, the burn out rate in women is higher than ever. I know I am certainly faced with it!

Men and women are undeniably still seen as different in terms of their expectations, and they are different in terms of how they are allowed by society to cope with mental illness.

The Dangers of Man Up

No article about gender differences in depression would be complete without a discussion about a certain phrase.

It’s a phrase that sadly remains ubiquitous in gender politics.

Man up.

Have you ever had that said to you? Have you ever said it to someone else?

If the answer to the first question is yes, then I just want to say, I’m sorry.

If the answer to the second question is yes, then I want to be clear that the purpose of this discussion is not to judge people who have said this. Truthfully, I just want to start a dialogue about how we can do better, since suicide is on the rise in American men.

Where did Man Up come from?

I’m not sure when the phrase “man up,” or similar phrases originated.  But men face a lot of pressure to remain stoic and not express their emotions.

I’m not on the fence about this one. I can’t be on the fence. That’s because I am a mother of young people and have a responsibility to raise them to be emotionally healthy adults who treat others with compassion. I can’t be on the fence about it because I see more and more males committing suicide because the pain they carry is too much to bear.

Listen: If you have ever said “man up” to your child or to someone else, I hear you. Tradition is important to you. There is something comforting to you about men having a spot to fill, and women having their own spot to fill. To you, it helps life make sense for you.

But let’s look at the facts. Suicide is on the rise, and we need to do something about it. We need to create a culture where it is okay for people of all genders to express their emotions. If we don’t, men will continue to lose their lives to something that is very preventable.

Gender Differences in Depression

Like I mentioned, there are definitely gender differences in depression, and in emotional expression. This is not something I agree with, or think is healthy, but it is worth discussing.

How men face depression

Women are twice as likely to be depressed as men. However, men are much more likely to die by suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 47,000 people died by suicide in 2017 in the U.S. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall. In 2015, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death for all U.S. men, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

(VeryWellMind- statistics on male suicide)

How is this possible? If women are more likely to be depressed, how is it possible that men are more likely to commit suicide?

The answer is simple: it is (from a societal perspective, not mine) less okay for men to talk about mental illness.

Men are told to “man up.” They are made to be a butt of joke among friends. That’s not to say that women do not ever face issues when they disclose their mental illness, but it is much more common for men.

gender differences in depression
Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

Tips for men to help them cope

So, what can men do? I wanted to offer some guidance so that, hopefully, we can start to see male suicide rates drop in our lifetime.

I think one thing that can be really helpful in this situation is for women to continue to be open about their own struggles. Traditionally, women are natural nurturers so this might speak to that, even though I don’t subscribe to gender roles normally. This might be a way for women who do find themselves to be nurturers to help the men in their lives. If women continue to speak openly about it, the way they have been, depression will continue to become a thing that is normal, which might help men become more comfortable speaking about it.

The need for research

Another thing that would be helpful in aiding men to be more comfortable speaking about mental health is to do more studies about the amounts of men who live with depression. Speaking again about traditional gender roles, men are seen as logical beings. They like to know how to get from point A to point B, and are comfortable thinking in numbers. Again, there are many women that this would be true for. This does not mean that women are illogical. But if the stereotype about men is true, it might be helpful for them to see more professional studies done about men living with depression.

Since we are great consumers of media in today’s day and age, one more thing that might help men speak out is to see accurate, compassionate, and helpful representation of depressed men in the media. In movies and television, as in reality, it is traditionally the female that is shown to be emotional, and shown to struggle with emotional health. Strong examples of men with mental health issues in film and television tend to portray them as violent, which is not the case for the majority of men who struggle with mental health.

Talk about it

Another suggestion I would offer is for men to simply talk about it. This takes practice. Speaking about your mental health is like training a muscle. It does not grow stronger by itself, but through regular exercise, diligence, and patience. For men to be comfortable speaking about mental health issues, they need to practice incorporating this dialogue into their daily lives in whatever way they can. I suggest starting with their spouse or partner. Starting with someone with whom they have a strong rapport will help pave the way for further conversation with others.

Probably the most important suggestion I could make is for men and women alike to be more conscientious about the way we are raising our children. We need to raise a new generation of adults that are not only comfortable speaking about mental health, but are compassionate and empathetic listeners.  If we can raise sons that are more sensitive and intuitive, as well as empathetic, we will be well on our way to destroying a stigma that has long plagued the male population.

How women face depression

According to the statistic that I already mentioned, women are twice as likely to be depressed as males. Why is this? Well like I said, women are facing a higher than ever rate of a burnout. At the risk of oversimplifying, burnout is when there is too much pressure on a person, and they are no longer able to cope.  Some symptoms of burnout include irritability, fatigue, and other changes in mood. There is a lot of pressure on women these days to “have it all.” Women are expected at higher rates than ever to work outside of the home, but also maintain a sometimes unrealistic amount of domestic responsibilities.

The dangers of social media

I place a lot of blame for this on social media, and its growing presence in our lives. It is a ubiquitous danger, with everybody having at least one social media account. Personally, I have a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. I use them daily, not just for my blog but for personal reasons. It helps me stay in contact with friends and family around the world.

For as many benefits that social media has, it has an equal if not greater amount of harmful side effects. Have you ever seen a social media Facebook post that made you feel bad about yourself? Maybe it made you question your capability as a mother. Maybe it made you wish that you were better at keeping your house clean. We have all had this experience. There is no woman in the world that has not been victim to this at least once. Women see these posts and it influences their mental health because it reinforces a mindset of inadequacy. It makes us feel less than. 

Tips for women to help them cope

It’s kind of a running joke that I have about myself, but in situations like this I always recommend journaling. Most women I know are pretty good about expressing their emotions, but this is not the case for everyone. Some struggle with the thoughts swirling around in their head, and need help making sense of them. If this is true for you, I recommend starting a journal. This can be difficult, especially if you are unsure about what you should be writing. If you need some ideas of things to write about, here are some examples:

    • Stream-of-consciousness writing. Basically you start with the first thought that comes to your head and keep writing even if it doesn’t make sense.
    • Write three things that you like about yourself.
    • Write about some goals that you have, whether they be physical, emotional, or professional.

Here are some great journals to help get you started: 

Gratitude Journal

Zen As F*ck

While I would offer the same suggestions to women that I offered to men in the section above, I would add one more. Women need to take action. This is going to look different for everybody. But women are in a unique situation in today’s age were they are equally powerful and powerless. They hold more power than ever before, but in a lot of ways feel that power being stripped away from them on a daily basis.

We need to take action

This is why we need to act. If we are going to continue to make progress in breaking the stigma attributed to mental health issues, we are past the point where speaking up about our issues is enough.

We need to tell our children that it is okay to feel, and that their feelings are valid.

We need to contact our Senators and tell them that we don’t just want more funding for mental health support, but we demand it.

We need to do fundraisers, and be chairpeople on boards of organizations, and run for office.

Speaking up is no longer enough. We need to give our words more power by acting on them.

Additional resources

Mental Health Journal

Self Confidence Workbook

National Alliance on Mental Health

Gender differences in depression, depression

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While the perception of gender roles is emotional health is still prevalent, that doesn’t mean we can’t change things for the better. Speak up about mental health, and don’t forget to always keep fighting.

Have you ever been a victim of gender stereotyping in your journey with mental health? How did you overcome it? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments!

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56 thoughts on “Gender differences in depression: How men & women deal with a common problem”

  1. I don’t think men are as vocal about their depression. They tend to hide it or find something to try to fill that void. That has been my experience anyhow.

    I’ve always been open about my mental health struggles. It started after I had my daughter. I was 19 when I had her and I wouldn’t change anything about that. But at 19, it was a struggle to be a young, married mom. I stayed at home for a majority of that time because my daughter was born deaf. She had lots of appointments and I was in an area where wages were low. I eventually went back to work as I needed social interaction, even though I’m an introvert by nature. Then I ended up being a single mom of two by the age of 24. But I survived. 🙂

    Now I suffer from depression for a bit different reasons. In Oct 2012, I was laid off due to medical issues. This sparked depression because of my young age, I was made to feel guilty for my health issues. But that is another story for a different day.

    My goal now is to help parents and one thing that I shared recently was that untreated depression in teens is harmful. Depression is like an illness and needs treatment. But teens today are living in a completly different world and the statistics on teenage depression is higher now. Or at least statistically because we tend to be a bit more open about mental health awareness now.

    1. Hey there, wow! You’ve really been through a lot. Hopefully you are doing okay these days. I agree, parents need to be more vigilant than ever about their kids’ mental health. Check in about how they’re feeling every day. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. I do feel like men tend to hold in their emotions more. Depression is something that I hope can become less of a stigma to everyone so we all feel comfortable discussing our emotions and are able to get help if needed.

  3. I like the fact that you highlighted that men too go through depression and are more likely suicidal. Depression is real and both genders equally face it whether it varies. There is a need to consciously more aware of the effect of depression and be more enlightened on how to adequately deal with it.

  4. I actually know many who deal with depression. A lot of family members and friends do. I am pretty sure I suffered from it when I was younger too. It is certainly not something I’d want anyone to have to experience.

  5. In my opinion, I think men deal with depression differently to women. Men tend to be more secretive about their pains, feelings and emotions than women. The men feel they’re supposed to have control over most things in their lives, hence when things don’t go as planned, they suppress the pains with silent grief, which in turn leads to depression. Women on the other hand are more open with their pains and emotional trauma.

  6. Thank you so much for talking about this topic! I know it’s hard to break down depression by gender, but the truth of the matter is is that the societal roles forced upon us by gender (ugh) often manifest with us coping with depression in different ways. I’d bet money my dad was depressed, but he was part of the “buck up,” generation, so he certainly never talked about it. After he died we found old journals of his. In them was a lot of “I don’t know why I feel this way…my life is so great, why am I miserable?” They just didn’t talk about it back then. I’m grateful that I work in the arts for the reason that I have a pretty extensive emotional vocabulary. Because we talk in feelings, motivations, and objectives, we are able to express how we feel with specificity. In fact, I was surprised to see that only %7 of people have depression, I feel like that percentage is way higher amongst theatre people! But is that because the industry attracts depressives, or because theatre people are more emotionally available? Not sure, but definitely something to think about. Anyway, sorry for rambling, great post as always! PS – I did NOT know depression was linked to heart disease. I’ve always had really good, sometimes low blood pressure, but now I know to keep an eye on it!

    1. Hey Carolyn, thanks so much for the thoughtful comment! It really is sad how men are conditioned to deal with it, even today. Male suicide is on the rise, but people can’t put their pride aside to make a real change. It’s awful. Hopefully enough people continue speaking up that those numbers drop in our lifetime. I can definitely see theater being attractive to people with mental health issues! It could be a form of escape, and also empowerment for a lot of people. Thanks so much for reading, as always!

    1. Hey Abby, I’m so glad it resonated with you. I try to be an advocate for men’s mental health whenever I can. I need to finally plan a post all about men! Thanks for reading!

  7. There certainly are clear differences in how men and women experience, and deal with, mental health. Men are more widely stigmatized and fed the age-old ‘Man Up’ phrase. However, women can also be stigmatised, claiming we’re too ’emotionally unstable’ or ‘irrational.’

    My personal pet peeve is: ‘Are you on your period?’ It gets me when a man assumes my mood is based on my monthly cycle.

    Speaking of which, our monthly or the hormones that cause it can be wee buggers when out of wack. They can further contribute to our poor mental health, yet I find GP’s fob it off as being ‘perfectly normal.’

  8. Do you feel that maybe the statistic for women having a higher rate of depression has to do with the stereotype that men do not seek help as often as women, thus they are not diagnosed? It goes the same for just basic doctor appointments. Women feel a cold coming on and they see and doctor but a man typically wont unless his limb is hanging off of him.

    I couldn’t agree more that toxic masculinity has created a culture full of men afraid to seek help. at the end of the day we all want to be liked/loved, so of course they would bow down to societies pressures to keep them feeling valued.

    Fantastic article about a topic that need much more recognition! 🙂

  9. This was such a well written and informative and IMPORTANT post! I think the only time I’ve ever said “man up” was in jest to my dad about watching a horror movie and he chuckled. I think since men tend to think more logically (not that women don’t!), I think they get frustrated with having depression. I know from experience that men like to “fix” things. And you can’t just “fix” depression with a wrench and some elbow grease. You have to work on it, and it takes time. The recovery process is different for everyone (treatment, meds, therapy, etc) and it has it ups and downs. And I think that might frighten and frustrate some men, so they’d rather keep quiet and hope it goes away. But like you said, I think if women (and other men) are more open and encouraging, more men can find help and those suicide rates can go down. The statistics are heartbreaking, and you just wish that the help had come before that, and that that person who was suffering could have felt okay to ask for help.

    Emily |

  10. zandra castillo

    According to our culture, men are supposed to be the breadwinners. It is true that there are more men staying home and the women are the ones supporting the house. I think that is a common factor in why people are depressed. I think that we would all be happier if men would stop trying to be women and women would stop trying to take over and prove they are as tough as men. Why can’t people just accept the gender roles assigned to them?

    1. I think that is why gender roles stayed the way they did for so long— it felt comfortable. Now that society’s changing, a lot of confusion definitely exists until we can figure out a new normal and how we can all coexist with these different viewpoints

  11. This was difficult for me to read
    Both of my sons were raised being told to “man up” they their teenage years by myself and their father and I’m not sorry at all about it
    They are both stable, responsible men and I am very proud of them

    Even though they were told to man up, we constantly discussed emotions and feelings also
    There is a balance

    Just my opinion

    1. Hey, sorry it felt difficult. It’s good to have conversations like this! While I’m not of that viewpoint, glad we can chat like this. They are definitely good ones! Love you!

  12. This is an excellent post. I feel like doing away with toxic masculinity will do wonders for men who struggle with depression; a constant pressure to internalize feelings and “stay strong” or “man up” is such an unhealthy way to deal with emotions that exist beyond the bounds of gender. In college we also looked into the correlation between mass shooters and gender; overwhelmingly, this kind of horrific violence is linked to men, and the consequences of under-performing masculinity, then being punished socially (sometimes bullying, abuse), then hyper-performing (extreme violence) to overcompensate. Though stoicism is preached to men, so is standing up and being violent, in some cases. It’s rewarded to play rough, often excused to fight (boys will be boys), etc,. I think it’s all tied together, and should definitely be talked about more! I really appreciate this conversation.

  13. Gender roles are being “done away” with, but we see their relevance everywhere. Biology is pretty constant. I’m learning so much about depression and mental illness through the blogging community. Keep stirring the fire!

  14. Unfortunately, I have known many male suicides and attempted. I have known 1 woman to commit suicide but that was under the influence of A-class drugs, but that is not to say I have not known many women to be suicidal.

    What stops the women from taking their own lives is the fact that they speak out about it and try in some way to make a call for help before the worst case scenario.

    If the men I knew who took their own lives or attempted to just spoke out to someone even a woman (does not have to be a bloke) then I am sure there would have been a chance to save them.

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