WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Signs of depression are detected much more easily in women than in men, a new study finds.

The new study examined how people perceive depression symptoms, and found that gender attitudes differ between men and women. When participants were given a story about a hypothetical man showing depressive symptoms and a hypothetical woman with the same pathology, they were more likely to say that the woman had depression and should seek help than the man.

However, female participants were more likely than male ones to identify when a man was afflicted with a mental health disorder. Attitudes toward people with depression were affected by attitudes toward seeking psychological help, psychiatric skepticism, and anti-scientific attitudes, the study published in the PLOS Medical journal.

“The present study provides evidence that there are individual differences in mental health literacy and attitudes toward depression,” wrote study author Viren Swami in the current paper published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

The study authors used a representative British general survey of 1,218 adults and presented study participants with one of two fictitious subjects, Kate or Jack. Both were described in non-clinical terms as having identical symptoms of major depression, the only difference being their suggested gender.

Some say that because women express emotional distress more often than men, they are more likely to be diagnosed with depression. But doctors should be wary of jumping to conclusions based solely on a patient’s gender.

“Health professionals need to be sensitive to patients who have difficulties in expressing emotional distress and critical of gender stereotypes which suggest that women invariably find it easy to express emotional distress and men invariably find it difficult,” according to authors of a study published in BioMed Central Family Practice in 2007.

Respondents were asked to identify whether the individual described suffered from a mental health disorder, and how likely they would be to recommend that Kate or Jack seek professional help.

Men and women were equally likely to say that Kate had a mental health disorder, but men were less likely than women to say that Jack did. Men were also more likely to recommend that Kate seek professional help than women were, though both men and women were equally likely to recommend help for Jack.

Respondents, especially men, rated Kate’s case as more distressing, difficult to treat, and deserving of sympathy than they did Jack’s case.


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