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It is often thought that women are more prone to depression than men.  Figures for the lifetime prevalence of depression vary according to the criteria used to define depression. Using DSM-IV’s criteria for ‘major depressive disorder’ which are similar to the ICD-10 criteria for ‘moderate depression’, the lifetime prevalence of depression is about 15 percent and the point prevalence about 5 percent. This means that an average person has about a one in seven (15 percent) chance of developing depression in the course of his or her lifetime, and about a 1 in 20 (5 percent) chance of suffering from it at this very point in time.[1]

But this may be misleading because it is not gender specific.  Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.  The reasons are not entirely clear but it appears that the answer is biological, psychological, and sociocultural.  Women have higher incidence of fluctuating hormone levels.  Most obvious is postpartum depression and during menopause.  Biologically, we have a greater genetic predisposition to depression.

Women are more likely to think (or overthink?) about problems—which is a strength and a weakness.  We are also by our God-given nature more invested in relationships.  The affect on women of relationship problems often leads to depression.  Men are more apt to react to relationship problems with anger, substance misuse, or with a stoic tolerance that we, as women, see as indifference.

Sustained or chronic stress leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, the “stress hormone,” and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters  in the brain, including dopamine,  which has been linked to depression.

From a cultural standpoint, women often have stress due to multiple responsibilities of working, bringing up children, maintaining a home, caring for older relatives, and the list goes on.  Added to that is that women live longer than men.  The loss of their support system of partners and friends through death and the resulting loneliness combined with declining physical conditions can lead to depression.  A woman is more apt to talk to her physician about her feelings and be diagnosed more frequently with depression.  Which leads us to wondering wether it is more prevalent in women or more diagnosed in women than men?

Regardless of the answer depression results in many women feeling hopeless and helpless.  A research study (Ages and Stages) by the University of California Los Angeles says that younger women depend on friends when depressed but women going through menopause and older rely on medication.  Young women think they can just ‘get over’ depression with the aid of friends and family. This is when the first episode of major depression is most likely – maybe after childbirth or a failed relationship. When women are in their 40’s and 50’s, depression may be assumed to be part of menopause and consequently the condition may go unrecognized. However life changes (children leaving home, divorce and aging parents) may be the actual triggers for depression than menopause.

In their sixties women tend to keep depression to themselves. In this survey, fewer than one in five confided in others. If they are dealing with the loss of a spouse, this can intensify their feeling of isolation. The take-home message of the survey is that younger women should realize that depression is a real illness that may need medical treatment. The older woman should recognize the importance of social support, as well as medication, in treating depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—which focuses on changing behavior, rather than talking about your childhood, for instance—can be effective with medication or even a substitute for drugs. It is much more focused on what you seem to be doing and thinking that is keeping you depressed.

Hopelessness and helplessness are feelings that overcome us when we are depressed.  Hope is a crucial ingredient in all healing—physical and emotional.  So depression can become very debilitating for this reason.  Ask most women who have experienced depression and they will relate that they just want to stay in bed and pull the covers over their heads!

Hopelessness robs us of the joy of each day and from fully embracing all that life has to offer.  There is help and tomorrow does not have to be like today but things won’t change until the depressed person reaches out for help.


[1] Psychology Today