Thursday, August 29, 2013

On Depression And Gender

A new study (seems to be based on a doctoral thesis by one of the authors) suggests that depression rates among men may have been underestimated because of the symptom list that is commonly used.  In other words, perhaps, as the authors argue, depression is as common in men as in women (or even more common in men).  But perhaps not.

The problem I have with the study (which I quickly read) is that I didn't spot the part where the lists of symptoms are nailed down as defining depression.  Something like people feeling better after getting medication for depression or other therapy for depression, something which links all the various symptom lists to the same illness.

I may have missed that part.  But in general the measurement of mental/ and emotional illnesses can be tricky.

Still, the study findings are interesting.  For example, when the authors used a combined scale which included both traditional (sorta female-coded items) and new "masculine" items, women and men tended to score about the same.  In addition to that, it wasn't necessarily just the men who seemed to score higher on the "masculine" items but a significant number of women, too:
The second scale, the GIDS, included traditional depression items as well as the alternative, male-type items from the MSS. The MSS appeared to identify depression in a group of men who disclosed more externalizing symptoms. However, we know that men’s experiences of depression are not uniform. For some men, these alternative symptoms would be enough to assess depression, while others would experience the more traditional symptoms of depression. Given that a significant number of women also met our depression case criteria using the MSS indicates that both women and men would benefit from a scale that contains an array of symptoms that better reflect the heterogeneity of the depression experience.

If the authors' new scales indeed measure depression better in many men (and many women), then their use will be an improvement, always assuming that effective treatment exists.  More people can be helped.