Scientific American Mind magazine recently devoted an entire issue (May/June 2010) to differences between male and female brains. According to the magazine, textbooks on psychiatry and abnormal psychology tend to be gender neutral, ignoring male-female differences in symptoms of mental disorders and responses to treatment. For example, clinicians have long assumed that psychiatric medications work equally well in both genders so there was no concern when studies of antidepressant drugs used mostly male subjects. Only later was it discovered that sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone, interact differently with the medications. Antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro work best in the presence of estrogen. This means that these drugs are more effective in women than in men. (Males respond better to drugs like Tofranil and Wellbutrin).
Of special interest to mental health professionals and family members might be the finding that symptoms are expressed differently in men and women. For women the primary emotion of depression is sadness. In men, depression shows itself as anger, irritability, frustration and restlessness: women get sad, men get mad. Compared to women, men are less likely to seek help for their depression so they carry it inside and more often get impatient, lash out at others, or deal with their inner turmoil by attempting suicide. Compared to their wives, many men resist the depression label, resist treatment and determine to “slug it out” on their own.
Probably most of us agree in gender-equality when it comes to equal opportunities and treatment in the workplace or elsewhere. For Christian believers there is no distinction between male and female; we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). But counselors, coaches, leaders and others risk showing bias and accepting distorted perceptions when they fail to recognize biological differences in their clients, especially in male and female brains.