Women are twice as likely to develop depression as men. This seems to hold true no matter what racial, ethnic and economic background a woman has. The exact reasons why women are more susceptible to developing depression than men is not known. However, there are a few factors that are unique to women’s lives that are suspected to contribute to the development of depression.
It is possible that hormonal changes could be a contributing factor. Women have a great deal more hormonal changes in their lifetime than men do: childbirth, menstruation, perimenopause and menopause. For some women these frequent hormonal ups and downs can create their own depressive syndrome, (for example, premenstrual dysphoric disorder); however, in others, when added to certain biological and psychological traits, they can create a more intense and longer lasting depression.
When a woman is experiencing perimenopause – a transition time before menopause starts – her estrogen levels rise and fall in an irregular manner, which can lead to mood swings, loss of sleep, and possibly depression. In menopause itself, the loss of estrogen production might contribute to depression. For some women, the onset of menopause can be a traumatic experience. They feel as if the end is near, or that they are some how less womanly. These psychological symptoms are shown to be more likely to cause depression in a woman who has entered menopause, than menopause itself.
Some researchers are looking into how inheredited genes might play a part in a woman’s development of depression. One specific way they are examining this, is to see if the gene for depression is located on the X chromosome and if the trait is dominant. Women have two X chromosones, while men only have one. If the gene is located on the X chromosome and if it is dominant, this would mean that on each of a woman’s X chromosomes there would be the depression gene, and women would be at twice as much rick for the disorder than men. Such a finding would definitely go a long way in explaining why women develop depression more frequently then men.
It is not only in adulthood that women are more susceptible to depression; it appears that girls in adolescence are more prone to depression than their male counterparts. There are many stresses involved in being an adolescent: forming identity, physical changes, separating from parents, and hormonal changes; but these stressors are different for boys than girls. Boys tend to develop behavior problems when they encounter too much stress, while adolescent girls tend to become depressed.
Stress has been shown to contribute to depression, and women experience stress that is unique to them. Often there is the stress associated with the juggling of a career and taking care of their family. Most of the time, women who work outside of the home are still handling more of the childcare and household chores then men do. In addition, there is the stress of feeling guilty for working outside the home. And if they are a stay at home parent, they experience guilt because they feel as if they are not contributing to the household finances.
Women who have been molested as children are more likely to develop depression. This holds true for other types of abuse – physical and emotional – experienced in childhood. Women experience sexual abuse more often then men do, leading to the belief that this is one of the reasons women experience depression more often then men. Abuse leads to depression because it creates a psychological environment where feelings of low self esteem, helplessness, self blame, and self isolation occur.
Women with certain characteristics – pessemistic thinking, low self-esteem, feeling as if they have little control over what happens to them, and excessive worry – are more likely to develop depression. It is thought that these traits may cause stressful events in life to be intensified or make it so the woman is unable to cope with them.
Not all women who experience these life events are going to develop depression. However, since women are at a higher risk for developing depression, it is considered wise for all women to pay attention and seek help if they suspect that they are having issues with depression.
Depression is a treatable psychological illness, and with all the different types of treatments for depression that are now available, no woman should feel that she has to handle it on her own.