The Society for Women’s Health Research points out that depression, a mood disorder characterized by persistent sadness, affects women two to three times more often than men. Mental Health America adds that one in eight women have clinical depression at some point in their lives. But why is clinical depression more likely among women? While the answer is not entirely clear, women experience different factors that increase their risk for the disorder.
Factors That Contribute to Depression in Women
Subhash C. Bhatia, MD and Shashi K. Bhatia, MD, authors of the American Family Physician article “Depression in Women: Diagnostic and Treatment Considerations,” explain that depression differences in women and men may be due to a combination of factors, which include biological and psychosocial issues. For example, differences in brain structure and function may explain why women have clinical depression more often. Using certain medications may cause depression. The authors list oral contraceptives with high progesterone and gonadotropin stimulants for infertility as possible causes. Helpguide.org adds that women are more likely than men to have thyroid problems, which can cause depression.
Different phases in a woman’s life cause depression. For example, Helpguide.org (a non profit resource of medical experts) notes that during menopause, women have an increased risk of depression due to changes in hormones. Women who have severe premenstrual menstrual disorder (PMS) that interrupts their lives have a type of depression called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). If women develop depression after giving birth, they have postpartum depression.
Psychosocial issues can also play a role in the prevalence of depression in women compared to men. For example, women are more likely to have clinical depression if they have either a family history or personal history of mood disorders. Traumatic experiences during childhood, such as a loss of a parent, physical and sexual abuse, can contribute to the onset of depression. Helpguide.org explains that women tend to ruminate when depressed, which can worsen depression. Other factors that can cause depression in women include stress and poor body image.
Differences in Symptoms
Helpguide.org notes that another reason clinical depression is more likely among women is the presentation of symptoms. Men and women with depression have the same symptoms, but women have certain symptoms more often than men. Women with clinical depression tend to have more noticeable guilt symptoms, as well as an increase in the amount of sleep. Female patients with depression – especially a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – also eat more and gain weight.
Men with depression experience fatigue, a loss of interest in activities, anger, irritability and sleep problems, rather than sadness or feeling worthless. In addition men tend to be less vocal about symptoms of helplessness and hopelessness, which may result in fewer men getting an appropriate diagnosis. This is also part of the reason why statistics show that clinical depression is more likely among women.
Mental Health America: Depression in Women
Society for Women’s Health Research: Fact Sheet – Sex Differences in Mental Health
American Family Physician; “Depression in Women: Diagnostic and Treatment Considerations”; Subhash C. Bhatia, MD and Shashi K. Bhatia, MD; July 1999
Helpguide.org: Depression in Women
Helpguide.org: Understanding Depression