Depression is a serious mental illness that is 1.5-3 times more common in women than in men. In this article I explore the reasons for this difference.
Gender-specific causes of depression
Researchers Rachel Salk, Janet Hyde, and Lyn Abramson (2017) found out that, compared with males, females have twice the risk of depression and a tripled rate during adolescence. For many girls, the early teen years are a tough time.
Women go through a number of physical changes in life such as pregnancy, menstruation, menopause and hormonal changes that can contribute to the development of depression. The use of contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy can also lead to depression.
Women are more vulnerable to disorders involving internal states such as depression, anxiety, and inhibited sexual desire. Women also experience situations such as receiving less pay for equal work, juggling multiple roles, and caring for children and elderly family members. (Freeman & Freeman, 2013).
Symptoms of depression in women and men
Women with depression often show higher rates of seasonal depression and atypical patterns characterised by symptoms such as excessive sleeping, increased eating and weight gain. Common emotional symptoms include feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and an inability to feel pleasure.
Men with depression often show symptoms such as anger, irritability and restlessness. They may also exhibit risky behaviour and suffer from alcohol and drug abuse. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, erectile dysfunction, indigestion and palpitations.
Emotional attunement versus control
Women have higher emotional attunement than men, which helps them recognise depression. However, they also tend to pay too much attention to negative emotions and symptoms of stress and discomfort, which is associated with higher rates of depression. Women are also more likely than men to seek mental health support and therefore more likely to receive a diagnosis and treatment for depression.
Suppression of depression in men
There is a hypothesis that many cases of depression in men go undetected because men are less likely to recognise their depressed mood or ask for help. Men tend to suppress their suffering and ignore negative thoughts and feelings. In addition, men are often afraid of being seen as weak or irresponsible if they seek help for mental health problems. Also, symptoms such as anger and restlessness can lead to depression not being recognised in men.
Gender differences in depression rates can be explained by a combination of physical, emotional and social factors. Women have higher emotional attunement and go through hormonal changes in life that can contribute to depression. Men, on the other hand, often have difficulty recognising their depressed mood and asking for help. It is important that people, regardless of gender, seek help if they suspect depression in order to receive the best possible treatment.