Study: How Questions Are Posed May Show Men And Women Suffer Equally With Depression

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921
Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” Albert Einstein

Asking the right questions…

As we mature we learn how to ask questions. Asking questions and seeking information is part of survival. It is what we do. But how many times have you found yourself in the middle of a discussion or crisis situation and one or more of your family members, co-workers, neighbors, or even complete strangers blurts out: “Well, you didn’t ask me that?”

Researchers, including those who conduct polls and samplings learn the importance of how questions are phrased. Pew Research Center offers the following observation:

One of the most significant decisions that can affect how people answer questions is whether the question is posed as an open-ended question, where respondents provide a response in their own words, or a closed-ended question, where they are asked to choose from a list of answer choices.

New research suggests how questions are presented may alter depression diagnosis for men

On Wednesday, August 28, 2013, the results of new research were published online in JAMA Psychiatry: The Experience of Symptoms of Depression in Men vs. Women, Analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. The lead author was Lisa Martin, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in Dearborn. Other researchers in the study were Harold W. Neighbors, PhD University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Derek M. Griffith, PhD, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

The study’s objective was: “to explore whether sex disparities in depression rates disappear when alternative symptoms are considered in the place of, or in addition to, more conventional depression symptoms.”

Study’s parameters

  • Researchers used data from a long-term mental-health study organized by Harvard Medical School
  • The data was gathered from 3,310 women and 2,382 men
  • Researchers designed two scales, one to be gender-neutral and one that was tuned toward how the disease of depression manifests itself in men.
  • Researchers looked at not only familiar symptoms of depression like sadness, feelings of guilt, difficulty sleeping, loss of interest; but, also asked about anger attacks, substance abuse, aggression, risk taking behavior and hyperactivity.

Study’s results

  • Men reported higher rates of anger attacks/aggression, substance abuse, and risk taking compared with women.
  • Analyses using the scale that included alternative, male-type symptoms of depression found that a higher proportion of men (26.3%) than women (21.9%) (P = .007) met criteria for depression.
  • Analyses using the scale that included alternative and traditional depression symptoms found that men and women met criteria for depression in equal proportions: 30.6% of men and 33.3% of women (P = .57).
  • When alternative and traditional symptoms are combined, sex disparities in the prevalence of depression are eliminated.

Moving forward…

For sure many scientists will weigh in on the results of this study. Here are just a few observations from experts who were not involved in the study.

USAToday interviewed Peter Kramer who is a clinical professor at Brown University. Dr. Kramer indicated that the notion of gender differences and depression symptoms is a new idea and the study’s results are preliminary. The Los Angeles Times interviewed UCLA’s Dr. Andrew Leuchter who is a psychiatrist and studies depression. Dr. Leuchter offered:

“When it comes to depression in men, to some extent we have blinders on. We have not been asking about and taking into account a range of symptoms that may be gender-specific. Everything we think we know about depression is a reflection of how we defined it to begin with.”
That bias, he added, may have fostered the perception that depression is predominantly a “woman’s disease” — and that men don’t need treatment for emotional suffering.

Additionally, Reuters reported that the lead author, Dr. Lisa Martin, “cautioned, however, that her study did have limitations, including that the surveys did not include questions about overworking, over exercising, changes in sexual behavior and other markers for depression among men.”

The most positive news about this study’s results is that once again we have a conversation starter which hopefully will allow more people to recognize depression symptoms and seek help for themselves or a loved one.

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