Word choice matters.” That’s what Lisa Martin, professor of health policy studies at the University of Michigan had to say in response to study results published in JAMA Psychiatry several months ago.
Martin led a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University to explore what exactly a depressed man looks like.
Most of us have heard the signs and symptoms of depression: sadness, sleep problems, feelings of worthlessness, deriving no pleasure from activities once enjoyed, etc. But it’s precisely this list that may have kept health professionals from recognizing male depression when they saw it.
The study was partially driven by something that’s puzzled mental health experts for a long time: if women are 70% more likely to become depressed than men, why are men 4 times more likely to commit suicide?
If It Doesn’t Walk Like a Duck, but it Still May be One
The problem is that depression often presents itself very differently in men than in women; while female depression shows itself as anger turned inward, males are more likely to spew their rage outwardly. Their partners, children, co-workers — all catch the fuel of their ire.
To prove their theory, Martin’s team gathered research from 5700 adults who were long-time participants in a mental health study conducted by Harvard Medical School; 41% were male. In addition to the old list of depressive symptoms, they added a new, male-oriented list: rage, anger attacks, risk taking behavior, substance abuse, hyperactivity, irritability and aggression.
What they found was provocative: when looking at the interviews with the “male” depressive lens, they found that 26.3% of men reported having at least one depressive episode in their lifetime, compared to 21.9% of women.
After reading the results of the study, I immediately thought of my friend, “Cathy.” Years ago, she complained that her husband “Jeff” was so irritable all of the time kids would walk on eggshells, cringing when they heard the garage door open, signaling his arrival home. Something as minor as towels not being folded the way he liked them to look were enough to send him into a blind rage, flinging the entire stack across the room.
I remember asking her, “Do you think he’s depressed?”
“Naw, he’s just pissed off.”
According to this study, he may have been both.