Mental Health Differences: Venus vs. Mars

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Mental Health Differences: Venus vs. Mars

By Lisa Adams

How symptoms of depression and anxiety can manifest

differently in men and women

 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 21.0 million adults experienced a major depressive episode in 2020. However, anxiety disorders top the charts as the number one mental health disorder in the U.S. today, affecting nearly 30% of Americans. Depression is a close second, and it is not uncommon for both men and women who suffer from an anxiety disorder to also suffer with depression, or vice versa. The reality is that almost half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

 

Depression or major depressive disorder is defined as “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act” by the American Psychiatric Association.

 

Diagnosing depression generally includes at least five of the following symptoms lasting for more than two weeks and causing significant or noticeable dysfunction in a person’s life.

 

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed

  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting

  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue

  • Feeling worthless or guilty

  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism

  • Irritability

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness

  • Difficulty sleeping, early morning awakening, or oversleeping

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities

  • Moving or talking more slowly

  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions

  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause that do not ease even with treatment

Generalized anxiety disorder described by the American Psychiatric Association involves “persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. This ongoing worry and tension may be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as restlessness, feeling on edge or easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension or problems sleeping.” For a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder the fear or anxiety must:

 

  • Be out of proportion to the situation or age-inappropriate

  • Hinder ability to function normally

The Feminine Experience

 

Sorry ladies, I hate to report that depression and anxiety are much more common for us than for our fellow men. In fact, we are TWICE as likely to experience depression and anxiety than men are. This is mostly due to the large amount of female sex hormones racing through our body at any given time. Other factors include biological and social components which are unique to women.

 

  1. Hormonal changes related to menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum and perimenopause can cause dramatic physical, mental and emotional shifts for women moving through these events of life.

     

  2. Women tend to respond more emotionally to difficult or traumatic events in life. Therefore, they are more vulnerable to experience major depression.

     

  3. Depending upon how a female has been raised, some demographics feel more comfortable expressing their sadness or despair openly. This allows them to seek out or ask for treatment/help more readily. On the other hand, some cultures/families do not encourage expression of emotion, especially those that may feel like weakness or embarrassment. Also, there may be generations of maladaptive behavior and thinking related to abuse that affect the way women express themselves. These women may display more emotions such as anger, rage and resentment when suffering from depression, as they are not able to express their needs or emotional state effectively. Sadly, these women may not get a diagnosis or treatment in a timely manner because their symptoms don’t show up as “typical.”

     

  4. Research shows that women tend to ruminate about problems/situations more whether they are in the past or present. This also makes us more susceptible to experiencing depression and anxiety.

     

  5. Every person is unique physically, mentally and emotionally, so experiences the symptoms of depression and anxiety differently. This will also be true for their treatment and management of the disorders regarding medication and therapy. Once again, females and our complex hormonal changes can create challenges in treatment, especially with finding medications that the body responds to well.

The Masculine Experience

 

Historically in our country/culture, boys and men have been told they are “tough” and “strong” and don’t cry. Although this is changing, it is unfortunate that many males have been raised to suck it up and not show emotion. Nor were they really given tools or examples of how to express their emotions. Especially those emotions often labeled as weakness or “sissy.” The other part of this reality is that many cultures and family generations condone men expressing themselves with anger, both verbally or physically. As a result, many men may display symptoms such as rage, anger and irritability when they are actually suffering from depression and/or anxiety. Sadly this results in missed diagnosis and treatment for the male population.

 

My daily routine was shot. I didn't have the energy to do anything. I got up because the dog had to be walked and my wife needed to go to work. The day would go by and I didn't know where it went. I wanted to get back to normal.

I just wanted to be myself again."

Jimmy, Firefighter

 

  1. Men who are depressed might act angry or aggressive instead of sad.

     

  2. Doctors, family or friends close to males may not even associate the anger or aggression as actual symptoms of depression. For that matter, the men themselves may not recognize these symptoms.

     

  3. Unlike women, men are much less likely to talk to friends or family members (and especially doctors) about depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, this means they may delay or not ever seek treatment, yet many men actually suffer with these disorders.

     

  4. Men are more likely to have difficulty sleeping, or suffer with insomnia than women with depression.

     

  5. Sometimes depression symptoms may show up as physical issues for males such as heart racing, constant or frequent headaches, chest pain or tightness and digestive difficulties.

     

  6. Often men may turn to drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their mental and emotional upset. This is another common and “socially acceptable” outlet for them in our culture.

Both men and women suffer with depression and anxiety every day. We just have to be mindful of our differences and recognize that because we are physically, mentally and emotionally very different, our symptoms and experiences with these disorders may look very different too.

 

I have always told my clients, as well as patients I cared for in the hospital, to trust your own body. No one knows your body like you do. It will always tell you when something is off, or needs attention. We just have to take the time to listen. When something doesn’t feel right or you feel “off,” YOU ARE RIGHT.

 

It is important to remember that depression and anxiety are highly treatable disorders with varied options for treatment and therapy. There is no shame in a diagnosis of depression, it is a serious medical condition that requires attention. As with any chronic disease or disorder, giving our body as much support as we can with plenty of quality sleep, eating whole, organic foods and eliminating/managing chronic stress, we can lessen the severity of symptoms and improve our quality of life.

 

In the words of Deepak Chopra…

The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat,

can influence your life by 30-50 years.”

 ________________________

 

Lisa Adams

Lisa Adams, an experienced nurse and health & wellness coach, helps overwhelmed professionals and health care providers recognize and manage the effects of chronic stress—the leading cause of disease, poor work performance and life dissatisfaction. Lisa provides simple, life-long and practical tools to help employees understand how the body functions, how to recognize and address chronic stress, and finally, how to facilitate healing and create lasting change.

 

Learn more about Lisa, her educational workshops, corporate wellness programs and individual coaching services at www.spiritofnamaste.com

 

 

Show references

 

https://www.livescience.com/56599-depression-differs-men-women-symptoms.html

 

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

 

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression

 

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-in-women

 

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression

 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression/art-20047725#:~:text=About%20twice%20as%20many%20women,can%20occur%20at%20any%20age.

 

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