The Secret Men Won’t Admit

When he seems ticked off or withdrawn, it may not be what you think. Learn more about the under-reporting of male depression.

By Susan Freinkel from Reader's Digest | January 2007

The most dramatic evidence comes from a study of 2,662 fraternal and identical twins conducted by psychiatrist Laura Bierut, MD, of Washington University in St. Louis. She found that female twins whose relatives had major depression were more likely to develop it than male twins. According to her analysis, genes accounted for 36 to 44 percent of the depression suffered by the female twins, but 24 percent or less of that suffered by the males. Individual life experiences also had a big impact on both sexes’ susceptibility. “Environment,” Dr. Bierut concludes, “seems to be playing a greater role in men’s depression than in women’s.” But it is still unknown why.

Other researchers suspect that not all the same genes affect male and female depression. While there’s substantial overlap, says Kenneth Kendler, MD, a psychiatrist at Virginia Commonwealth University, there also “are genes that appear to act specifically in men but not women, and in women but not men.” A number of researchers are now on the hunt for those genes.

Whether or not it turns out that men suffer more than the statistics show, there’s no question many men are depressed. And just like women, all the experts agree, the longer they go without getting help, the stronger the negative impact on their lives.

Luckily, treatments are largely gender-blind. Though the older tricyclic drugs, like amitriptyline and imipramine, are slightly less effective in women than men, there’s no such problem with the newer antidepressants like Prozac and its ilk. Most studies show that the many types of psychotherapy available can be equally beneficial for men and women.

Eric Weaver ultimately managed to put his illness behind him, but only after repeated hospitalizations, dozens of medications and, finally, an embrace of religion. Now retired from the police department, he is assistant pastor at his church. “I’m not saying I don’t have bad days every once in a while,” he says. “But now I can recognize it and deal with it.”

Consult our resource guide below for expert answers and advice:

The National Institute of Mental Health

The American Psychological Association