There are many differences when it comes to distinguishing genders both physically and psychologically. There is a large spectrum of depressive symptoms that determines the diagnosis of Major Depression Disorder. Major Depression Disorder is a mood disorder characterized by a constant feeling of sadness and hopelessness, in addition to a loss of interest in normal activities, affecting one’s behavior and thoughts over a course of two or more weeks (Mayo Staff).
With these varied conditions it leads to the question of whether or not the difference in gender has any effect on how depression affects an individual. It leads to questioning whether or not depression influences the two genders in different ways. This study is important to know for future treatment methods and whether or not they should be modified to fit each gender differently for effective results. If there is specific evidence that states clear differences between the two genders, it can lead a less generalized description of the disorder for people to better understand its effects.
With a wide range of symptoms that correspond with having major depression disorder the question arises about whether these symptoms categorize themselves between the two genders allowing for the disorder to affect both males and females differently. Studies have tested the efficacy of different antidepressant drugs in regards to the difference in gender. If males and females are influenced differently by depression, the type of antidepressant can vary depending on gender. In a study at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, investigators onducted a double-blind study testing the effects of both Sertraline and Imipramine (Jancin). Sertraline and Imipramine are two common types of antidepressant drugs that affect the chemical balance that is disturbed in those who are suffering from depression (“Sertraline”). Sertraline is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor while Imipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant (Jancin). Both 223 men and 400 premenopausal women with chronic depression were tested and randomly assigned a drug to test (Jancin).
Results showed that both men and women responded differently to the drugs with each gender having varied reactions (Jancin). Women responded favorably to the sertraline and slower to imipramine, while men experienced the exact opposite results (ancin). Similar responses were shown in a separate study with 1746 women and men over fifty years old treated with tricyclic antidepressants, MAO inhibitors, Fluoxetine, and a placebo (Jancin).
Women, despite the difference in age between the two studies, responded slower to tricyclic antidepressant drugs, similar to Imipramine, and faster to MAO inhibitors that affect atypical symptoms (Jancin). Atypical depression is found to be the most common form of depression in women as there were more reported instances of oversleeping and overeating compared to men (Jancin). Therefore, as MAO inhibitors are targeted to effectively treat atypical depression it is seen to work better in women.
In both studies tricyclic drugs were more effective in males than females despite the factor of age, showing differences between genders in relation to the effectiveness of antidepressants. These different forms of drugs had a consistent outcome on men and women leading each drug to affect the genders in different ways. In various studies regarding the different coping strategies of males and females there were higher rates of depressive symptoms among adolescent girls in comparison to boys in the area of coping methods and masculinity (Li).
Susan Nolen Hoeksema a researcher at University of Michigan, suggests that one contributing factor to the increase of depressive symptoms among young females is through an increase in vulnerability and how girls cope with stress in relation to boys (Li). According to Brems and Johnson’s study in 1989 they used three different scales such as the Bern Sex Role Inventory, the Problem Solving Inventory, and the FIRO Cope to test the responses to problem solving situations among 138 subjects (Li).
Results showed that girls tended to use emotion-focused coping which involves confronting emotions that are associated with the stressor; whereas males tended to rely on problem-focused coping techniques that that deal with the stressor in a direct manner (Li). Emotion focused coping has been linked to a higher instance of the development of depressive symptoms, which in turn is more common in women (Li). Susan Nolen Hoeksema also conducted a study that hypothesized that women are more likely than men to experience depressive symptoms due to the higher likelihood of the presence of chronic negative experiences or strains (NolenHoeksema).
She also hypothesized that women are also more likely to have feelings of low mastery and use aspects of ruminative coping which involves over-analyzing and worrying about emotions associated with various problems (NolenHoeksema, Li). She randomly chose participants from various age groups to acquire samples from young, middle aged, and older adults and asked them to take part in two, ninety minute interviews, one at the beginning of the study and the other a year later (Nolen-Hoeksema).
The responses to the questions were part of a specific set of answers from the Likert-type scale to asses the five sources of chronic strain (Nolen-Hoeksema). These included aspects such as parenting, relationships, and work responsibilities. The study suggested that women had many more instances of vulnerability within their everyday lives compared to men over a year’s time (Nolen-Hoeksema). These led to chronic strain, rumination during times of distress, and a feeling of limited control over their lives that combine to produce a greater chance of experiencing depression (NolenHoeksema).
A similar study related to coping using these types of questionnaires had similar results that suggested women had more academic control over their lives rather than their social lives leading to this sense of social stress (Compas). This relates to the emotional focus that girls use when dealing with external stressors (Compas). The tendency for women to internalize problems, and in turn for men to externalize difficulties, leads to the greater potential to experience aspects and symptoms of depression in a more overwhelming fashion (link 2).
Aspects of masculinity and femininity in biological sex was also tested by Nolen Hoeksema in 1994 (Li). She hypothesized that these two factors had an effect on the prediction of depression within adolescents (Li). This study is another example of the impact of coping mechanisms in regards to masculinity, stating that masculinity is positively associated with problem-focused coping and to a negative correlation in response to depressive symptoms (Li).
46 participants from ages 14-18 years old were asked to complete the Bem Sex Role Inventory to assess masculine and feminine traits, and the Reynolds Adolescent Depressive Scale to measure depressive symptoms (Li). The results showed that masculinity, while negatively correlating with depressive symptoms had less of an effect on the strength and prevalence of these symptoms, while femininity had was unrelated to symptoms entirely (Li). Although, the different coping strategies demonstrated by males and females were able to predict aspects of depression by a 36% variance in degree of its symptoms (Li).
Coping strategies did not explain why girls were more depressed than boys, but ruminative coping was found to be strongly related to depression, and girls tend to use this form of coping consistently (Li). Studies have also shown effects due to environmental factors and their impact on the genders (Leibenluft). Depression has recently been found to have stronger ties with biological, psychological, and environmental factors as well as additional data from both genetics and social situations regarding women’s increased tendency to suffer from depression (Leibenluft).
Lewis R. Baxter at the University of California found through neuroimaging such as PET scans, similarities between patients with ObsessiveCompulsive Disorder and their reactions to both medication or behavioral therapy (Leibenluft). These results show that environmental factors have the ability to influence brain chemistry and affect aspects of anxiety (Leibenluft). By studying PET scans, it is revealed that biological factors have control over the activity in the brain during feelings of happiness and sadness (Leibenluft).
Hormonal factors such as the impact of fluctuating serotonin levels also play a role in distinguishing depression and psychiatric illnesses between the genders (Leibenluft). Meir Steiner at McMaster University suggests that serotonin levels affect genders in different ways and has evolved due to success in child rearing for species where aggressive impulses are limited in women (Leibenluft). He also has found in his studies that low serotonin levels are linked to depression and anxiety in females and more physical effects such as alcoholism and aggression in males (Leibenluft).
Environmental factors are present in the sense that society conditions men to respond to stressors through aggression with the opposite teachings for women (Leibenluft). Both the biological factors of serotonin levels combined with differing effects from environmental factors cause the genders to react to stress differently prompting stronger depressive symptoms in women. Through evidence regarding the use of medical treatment along with internal and external factors, depression has suggested trends that differ in both males and females.
The effects of the treatment provided by antidepressants have shown evidence that certain types of drugs have faster effects on each gender in different ways. The differences in coping also leads to higher risks of developing depressive symptoms in women more than men due to emotional stress. Also, environmental and biological factors have been shown to affect others as society’s stereotypes lead each gender to different responses when serotonin levels are low. Outside stressors also affect the chemical activity in our brains due to the fluctuation of emotions.
There is limited definitive information as to why each gender is affected by depression differently, so it would be beneficial to use the fact that there are differences to find a reasoning. Knowing that men and women are affected differently in regards to symptoms of depression this can help scientists to conduct research on the best treatment options for specifically helping each gender find a successful cure. With this information, people can better understand the specific causes of depression and use that to treat those who are suffering.