Research has shown that exposure to long-term stress can lead to the development of depressive symptoms later in life. Academics have long believed that women take on more of life’s stresses, however new research conducted at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, suggests that men may be more vulnerable to the emotional effects of stress.
The researchers studied the effects of stressful events on depression risk over a 25 year period and found that men were 50 percent more likely to develop depression, compared to women. The results of the research were published in the journal, Frontiers in Public Health.
“The literature has historically argued that women are more depressed because they get more of the stress,” said Dr. Shervin Assari of the School of Public Health Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health, and the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. “None of that literature touches on role of gender as a vulnerability factor.”
Assari’s study focused on identifying any association between race, gender and depression risk. While the research did not identify a link between ethnicity and depression over the 25 year study period, a definite difference in depression risk between the genders was established.
According to Assari, one explanation for this heightened risk of stress-induced depression in men, could be explained by the tendency of men to avoid talking about stress and emotions, compared to women. In addition, the researchers say the difference could be explained by varying degrees of risk perception, resilience and exposure to stressors, between the sexes.
“In our society, as men, we learn to see this as a weakness, as suggested by gender role identity theorists,” said Assari. “Hegemonic masculinity is a barrier to seek care and talk about emotions.
“This at least in part explains why men less frequently seek help, either professional or inside of their social networks. Our research suggests this may come with a price for men.”
Men have a tendency to underreport stressful events in life, and even when these feelings are acknowledged, males can still be greatly affected by depression later in life. “”Differential exposure to stress may help women better mobilize their psychological resources, which protect them when needed,” said Assari.
“Men should improve the way they cope and the way they mobilize their resources when they face stressful events. They should learn from women on how to talk about emotions and use resources.”