A recent study by the Department of Psychology at the University of Westminster in London has found that depression, though significantly more common in women, is much more difficult to recognize in men. Researchers presented a sample group (1,218 UK adults) with the following vignette that, in non clinical terms, describes the symptoms of depression:
"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 sticks with her/him all day. S/he isn't enjoying things the way she normally would. In fact, nothing gives her/him pleasure...S/he finds it hard to concentrate on anything. S/he feels out of energy and out of steam. And even though Kate/Jack feels tired, when night comes s/he can't go to sleep."
Half of the group was given the male version of the story, while the other half was given the female version. Researchers then asked the group whether or not the character had a mental disorder, whether or not he or she should seek treatment, how difficult the treatment would be, what the character's problem was and how sympathetic they felt towards the person.
Participants were far more likely to assume that Kate was suffering from a mental disorder than Jack, despite their stories and symptoms being the exact same. Male members of the sample group were particularly likely to dismiss Jack's mental health problems and were less able to sympathize with his situation. They were, however, very sympathetic towards Kate.
The study presents a very interesting flip-side to a very old situation — women have long suffered from having their actions, feelings and emotions devalued and dismissed as craziness or hysteria, but perhaps men have suffered equally from not having their legitimate mental illness recognized at all. As The Atlantic's Lindsay Abrams puts it:
It's been suggested that people have difficulty reconciling notions of strength and toughness with the symptoms of depression, making it more difficult for depressed men to attain understanding and acceptance for their disorder. Men even tend to experience depression differently — the disorder tends to manifest itself as physical discomfort or irritability, as opposed to women's more emotion-based symptoms. This may be because, for men, an overabundance of "feelings" is a less culturally acceptable mode of expression.
Recognizing and addressing this double standard could do wonders for both sexes, especially those in need of or seeking treatment.
Mental Health Literacy of Depression: Gender Differences and Attitudinal Antecedents in a Representative British Sample [Plos One]
Study: We're Less Likely to Recognize Symptoms of Depression in Men [The Atlantic]
Image via Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock.