Detecting and Diagnosing Depression: It Can Look Different in Men and Women and in Teenagers, Too

Although men, women, and teens may experience the same depression symptoms, the illness may also have different symptoms in each of these groups.

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sad man line drawing
Gender and age differences can affect the outward signs of depression.Shutterstock

Unlike typical feelings of sadness that pass relatively quickly, depression is a clinical illness in which negative emotions last for weeks or longer.

It’s one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses, affecting an estimated 280 million people (or more) around the globe.

Depression is treatable, and it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of the illness so that you can get help as soon as possible.

Signs of Depression in Adults

Depression doesn’t affect all people in exactly the same way, but the illness is associated with particular signs and symptoms. There is a minimum number of symptoms needed for a clinical diagnosis of depression, but the combination and exact number of symptoms in each person can vary. If you have been experiencing some of the following symptoms for most of the day, almost every day, for two weeks or more, you may be struggling with depression:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood for most of the day (or an irritable mood in children and adolescents)
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in once-enjoyable activities
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain, or a significant decrease or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Restlessness or slowed movements, speech, and thoughts
  • Feelings of worthlessness or extreme guilt
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Additionally, you may experience physiological signs like new, frequent aches, pains, or stomach issues. (In some cases, people may experience mental distress physically more than psychologically.) Changes in behavior or increased substance use may also be signs of attempts to self-treat the underlying mental distress.

Depression in Men

Although men and women can have the same symptoms of depression, there are important differences in how often they report specific symptoms, according to an analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Men with depression are more likely than women to report the following symptoms:

  • Anger
  • Aggression
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Risk-taking behaviors

Reflecting cultural norms, men with depression may be more likely to exhibit certain unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as workaholism or gambling. Men are also less likely to be diagnosed with depression than women.

Depression in Women

Depression is diagnosed twice as often in women as it is in men. Women with depression are more likely to report the following symptoms:

  • Stress
  • Indecisiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling pathetic
  • Sleep problems
  • Depressed mood

Depression in Children and Teens

Depression has become common in young people between ages 12 and 17, and the rates of teen depression have been rising fast. According to a study published in 2016 in?Pediatrics, the number of kids ages 12 to 17 who’d experienced a major depressive event in the previous 12 months jumped from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 11.3 percent in 2014.

Despite the rise in depression, the researchers did not see an increase in the number of teenagers undergoing mental-health treatment, suggesting that many young people are not receiving the help they need.

Concerningly, rates of depression and anxiety among kids and teens appear to have doubled during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with prepandemic rates. Recent estimates suggest that 1 in 4 youths are dealing with depression symptoms, and 1 in 5 have anxiety symptoms, according to a meta-analysis published in 2021 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Teenagers have many of the same symptoms of depression as adults, but those changes in mood and behavior are sometimes mistaken as a normal part of puberty or adolescence.

Other signs of depression in teenagers can include:

  • Sadness and crying spells that happen without much cause
  • Anger or frustration, even over small issues
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Irritability
  • Extreme guilt, self-blame, or self-criticism
  • Sensitivity to rejection
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unexplained body aches and pains
  • Angry outbursts or other acting-out behaviors
  • Having bad grades in school, or skipping school
  • Conflicts with friends and family
  • Self-harm
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Complications of Depression

Experiencing and surviving an episode of major depression puts you at risk of more episodes in the future. According to a study in Psychological Medicine, more than 13 percent of people who recover from their first episode of major depression go on to have another one within five years; 23 percent within 10 years; and 42 percent within 20 years.

Depression can negatively affect other aspects of your health, too, including your physical, social, and emotional well-being. It can lead to issues with your personal relationships and work life. Depression can also affect your physical health, raising your risk of developing heart disease or obesity, anxiety disorders, alcohol or drug misuse, as well as premature death from another medical condition.

It’s also a risk factor for suicide. More than 90 percent of all people who die by suicide — the 10th leading cause of death in the United States — have a diagnosable psychiatric illness such as depression at the time that they die, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Depression Tests and Diagnosis

There are a number of online tools and self-tests that can help determine whether you may be depressed and need to seek help, but only your doctor or a mental health professional can diagnose clinical depression.

Before diagnosing major depression, which is the most common type of depression, your doctor will conduct exams and tests to rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms, such as thyroid issues, medication side effects, neurological illnesses, autoimmune diseases, or nutritional deficiencies.

These efforts may include a physical examination and blood tests, as well as a discussion about your medications, some of which may cause depressive symptoms.

Your doctor will also ask in-depth questions about your mood and feelings, and they may ask you to fill out a questionnaire.

Resources We Love

American Psychiatric Association (APA)

The APA’s resources can help you learn about how and when doctors diagnose someone with depression. You could also search for a psychiatrist near you using its?Find a Psychiatrist tool.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)

The ADAA has educational resources about the symptoms of depression and treatments for it, as well as a?directory of therapists that can help you find treatment for depression near you.

Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic provides helpful overviews about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for many different health conditions, including major depressive disorder.

Additional reporting by?Pamela Kaufman.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Depression. World Health Organization. September 13, 2021.
  • Depression (Major Depressive Disorder). Mayo Clinic. February 3, 2018.
  • Martin LA, Neighbors HW, Griffith DM. The Experience of Symptoms of Depression in Men vs. Women: Analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. JAMA Psychiatry. October 2013.
  • Mojtabai R, Olfson M, Han B. National Trends in the Prevalence and Treatment of Depression in Adolescents and Young Adults. Pediatrics. December 2016.
  • Racine N, McArthur BA, Cooke JE, et al. Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19. JAMA Psychiatry. August 9, 2021.
  • Teen Depression. Mayo Clinic. August 12, 2022.
  • Hardeveld F, Spijker J, De Graaf R, et al. Recurrence of Major Depressive Disorder and Its Predictors in the General Population: Results From the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (NEMESIS). Psychological Medicine. October 31, 2012.
  • Suicide Claims More Lives Than War, Murder, and Natural Disasters Combined. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. February 9, 2020.
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