Depression seems to affect men and women differently, particularly in adolescents. The findings reported by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, suggest that sex-specific treatments might be beneficial for adolescents.
“Men are more liable to suffer from persistent depression, whereas in women depression tends to be more episodic,” explains Jie-Yu Chuang, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, and an author on the study, which was recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. “Compared with women, depressed men are also more likely to suffer serious consequences from their depression, such as substance abuse and suicide.”
These widely reported differences prompted Chuang and colleagues to investigate in greater detail male and female response to depression. The team recruited 82 females and 24 males suffering from clinical depression and 24 females and 10 males who are healthy to act as controls. If you find that’s oddly disproportional, well, it’s just further proof that depression is far more common in women. By 15 years of age, girls are twice as likely to suffer from depression as boys.
Using magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists performed brain scans while each participant watched happy, sad or neutral words flash on a computer screen in a specific order.
When words in a certain combination appeared on the screen, it was noted that that the neural response of the depressed individuals differed according to their gender. Specifically, it was the activity in the brain regions such as the supramarginal gyrus and posterior cingulate that differed the most. These brain regions have been previously linked to depression but it’s not clear at this point why they are affected differently in depressed males and females, particularly teenagers.
There are some possible explanations, though. These included hormonal fluctuations and genetic factors. For instance, previous research suggests women are more at risk of inheriting depression.
The study does have its limitations, though. The small sample size and the disproportional participants of boys and girls might not mean the results are representative. “I think it would be great to conduct a large longitudinal study addressing sex differences in depression from adolescence to adulthood,” Chuang admitted.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.