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Revisiting gender differences in somatic symptoms of depression: much ado about nothing?

By Vanessa C Delisle, Aaron T Beck, Keith S Dobson, David J A Dozois and Brett D Thombs


Women have a higher prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and report more severe depressive symptoms than men. Several studies have suggested that gender differences in depression may occur because women report higher levels of somatic symptoms than men. Those studies, however, have not controlled or matched for non-somatic symptoms. The objective of this study was to examine if women report relatively more somatic symptoms than men matched on cognitive/affective symptoms.Male and female patients receiving treatment for MDD in outpatient psychiatric clinics in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, USA were matched on Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) cognitive/affective symptom scores. Male and female BDI-II somatic symptom scores were compared using independent samples 2-tailed t-tests.Of 472 male and 1,026 female patients, there were 470 male patients (mean age = 40.1 years, SD = 15.1) and 470 female patients (mean age = 43.1 years, SD = 17.2) successfully matched on BDI-II cognitive/affective symptom scores. Somatic symptoms accounted for 35% of total BDI-II scores for male patients versus 38% for matched female patients. Female patients had somatic symptom scores on average 1.3 points higher than males (p<.001), equivalent to 4% of the total BDI-II scores of female patients. Only 5% of male patients and 7% of female patients scored 2 or higher on all BDI-II somatic symptom items.Gender differences in somatic scores were very small. Thus, differences in the experience and reporting of somatic symptoms would not likely explain gender differences in depression rates and symptom severity

Topics: Medicine, R, Science, Q
Publisher: Public Library of Science (PLoS)
DOI identifier: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032490
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