Differences in the expression of symptoms in men versus women with depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis



Publication Details

Cavanagh, A., Wilson, C. J., Kavanagh, D. J. & Caputi, P. (2017). Differences in the expression of symptoms in men versus women with depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 25 (1), 29-38.


Objective: While some studies suggest that men and women report different symptoms associated with depression, no published systematic review or meta-analysis has analyzed the relevant research literature. This article aims to review the evidence of gender differences in symptoms associated with depression.

Methods: PubMed, Cochrane, and PsycINFO databases, along with further identified references lists, were searched. Thirty-two studies met the inclusion criteria. They included 108,260 participants from clinical and community samples with a primary presentation of unipolar depression. All 32 studies were rated for quality and were tested for publication bias. Meta-analyses were conducted on the 26 symptoms identified across the 32 studies to assess for the effect of gender.

Results: The studies indicate a small, significant association of gender with some symptoms. Depressed men reported alcohol/drug misuse (Hedges's g = 0.26 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.11-0.42]) and risk taking/poor impulse control (g = 0.58 [95% CI, 0.47-0.69]) at a greater frequency and intensity than depressed women. Depressed women reported symptoms at a higher frequency and intensity that are included as diagnostic criteria for depression such as depressed mood (g = -0.20 [95% CI, -0.33 to -0.08]), appetite disturbance/weight change (g = -0.20 [95% CI, -0.28 to -0.11]), and sleep disturbance (g = -0.11 [95% CI, -0.19 to -0.03]).

Conclusions: Results are consistent with existing research on gender differences in the prevalence of substance use and mood disorders, and of their co-occurrence. They highlight the potential utility of screening for substance misuse, risk taking, and poor impulse control when assessing depression in men. Future research is warranted to clarify gender-specific presentations of depression and co-occurring symptoms.

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