Male vs Female Stress

Why Women Cry and Men Run Away
Jed Diamond, Ph.D. has been a health-care professional for the last 45 years. He is the author of 9 books, including Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome, and Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome . He offers counseling to men, women, and couples in his office in California or by phone with people throughout the U.S. and around the world. To receive a Free E-book on Men’s Health and a free subscription to Jed’s enewsletter go to Key Findings from Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Aggression and Depression From Chapter 8 Trauma-spectrum disorders Although we have known for some time that stress can cause damage to the heart, the gastrointestinal tract, and other parts of the body, we have recently learned that stress can actually damage the brain. J. Douglas Bremner, M.D., is Director of Mental Health Research at the Atlanta Veterans Administration Medical Center, and is editor of Trauma, Memory, and Dissociation and Stress Disorder. According to Bremner, “Research in only the past decade or so has shown that extreme stress has effects on the brain that last throughout the lifespan.”i As a result many of those emotional distresses that we have, in the past, viewed as purely psychological, may be the result of physical damage to the brain. “A group of psychiatric disorders related to stress, what I call trauma-spectrum disorders,” says

Bremner, “could share in common a basis in brain abnormalities that are caused by stress.”ii Bremner continues saying that “Trauma-spectrum disorders are those that are known to be linked to stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociative disorders, borderline personality disorders, adjustment disorder, depression, and anxiety.”iii I would include the Irritable Male Syndrome as another one of these trauma-spectrum disorders. Trauma-spectrum disorders and Gender: Women Cry and Men Run Away One of Dr. Bremner’s experiments helps us understand the difference between the way men and women experience these disorders. He gathered a group of former depression patients. With their permission, he gave them a beverage that was spiked with an amino acid that blocks the brain’s ability to absorb serotonin, the neurotransmitter that allows us to feel upbeat and happy. Using the new brain scan techniques he took pictures of the subject’s brains to see if he could pinpoint the areas that were associated with depression. If we knew the areas of the brain associated with depression, he reasoned then we could come up with better medications and treatment approaches. In looking at the color brain scans he was able to show that a loss of serotonin affects all three major areas of the brain. What I found even more fascinating were the gender specific differences in the way men and women reacted to the potion that blocked the effects of the serotonin. Typical of the males was John, a middle-aged businessman who had fully recovered from a bout of depression, thanks to a combination of psychotherapy and Prozac. Within minutes of drinking the brew, however, "He wanted to escape to a bar across the

street," recalls Bremner. "He didn't express sadness … he didn't really express anything. He just wanted to go to Larry's Lounge." Contrast John's response with that of female subjects like Sue, a mother of two in her mid-thirties. After taking the cocktail, "She began to cry and express her sadness over the loss of her father two years ago," recalls Bremmer. "She was overwhelmed by her emotions."iv So we see a very real contrast in the ways men and women respond to a loss of the brain chemicals that keep our emotions in a healthy balance. Men tend to withdraw and go for the alcohol to prevent us from feeling our pain. Women tend to share their emotions with others. I have found that chronic irritability is one of the principal ways men withdraw, rather than dealing directly with our feelings.


J. Douglas Bremner. Does Stress Damage the Brain? New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002, p. 100. Ibid. p. ix. iii Ibix., p. ix. iv Alex Markels. “Depression in men is an underdiagnosed epidemic. Men’s Journal, November, 1998

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