Last week, British psychologist Viren Swami published an interesting research article about how we perceive depression in women and men.
He took 1200 people and had them read a extensive description of a person with formal (DSM-IV) symptoms of depression. Here, I’ll cite only the first lines:
“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 s/he normally would. In fact, nothing gives her/him pleasure.” (… more in the original)
All people in the experiment got this same description, with only one difference. 600 people got a Kate, she, her version, about a woman. The other 600 people got the Jack, he, his version: exactly the same text, describing exactly the same symptoms, but now about a man. Everyone was asked to answer some questions about the condition of this “Kate” or of the identical “Jack”.
In the first place, people who had read the “Kate” text evaluated the person’s psychical condition as more serious than the people who had read the identical “Jack” text. Only 10% of the “Kate” readers concluded that “Kate” had no really serious problems, while 21% of the “Jack” readers concluded that “Jack” (with the very same symptoms) had no really serious problems. People were also much more inclined to say “Kate” should seek help, than in the identical case of “Jack”.
Secondly, there also were similar differences between the female and the male readers of both texts. Male readers would less often call “Jack” depressed than female readers would. Male readers rated the “Kate” situation as worse (and deserving more sympathy) than the identical situation of “Jack”.
In the end the researcher (Swami) concludes that clearly, gender stereotypes do still play an important role in how we view, judge, qualify symptoms of depression. A quote from Swami’s conclusions:
“To the extent that mental illness is inconsistent with notions of hegemonic masculinity that stress toughness and strength, respondents may be less likely to view men with symptoms of depression as suffering from a mental health disorder and, consequently, may adopt less positive attitudes toward such persons. The ways in which men relate to dominant forms of masculinity thus appear to impact on their mental health-related conceptions and attitudes.”
What Swami in fact concludes is that, due to gender bias and role stereotypes, people may more often fail to recognize a major depression in a man than in a woman. And that males may more often fail to recognize it in themselves. And that one of the results may be that men will be less inclined to seek help when in fact they do need it.
My own comment: as so often, this academic research only confirms what many of us may already have guessed. But I still find it interesting to see that instinctive feeling confirmed by a research experiment.
• tip: There is no actual lesson to be drawn here, except perhaps that from time to time we should remind ourselves that depression in a man can be just as bad as depression in a woman… In other words, that a major depression should not be dismissed as “unmanly behavior”.
• footnote 1: This post was about the research article Mental Health Literacy of Depression: Gender Differences and Attitudinal Antecedents in a Representative British Sample by Viren Swami (Department of Psychology, University of Westminster, London), published November 2012 in the online peer-reviewed journal PloS ONE.
Full text of the research article: PloS ONE: Mental Health Literacy of Depression.
• footnote 2: The half-woman-half-man picture was derived from one of the wonderful pictures in the gallery Drag Queens: Men’s Faces As Half Women & Half Men, posted August 2012 by John Selby in the Urban lOl blog site.