Most people have had days where they felt down, blue, or generally sad. These temporary feelings come and go. But for the 19 million Americans who suffer from major depression, those feelings can be long-lasting and may be enhanced by a variety of symptoms including chronic pain, decreased energy, weight changes, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Depression is the primary cause of disability in the United States, with about 10 percent of the population affected by the condition.
Gender-specific studies have shown that women are almost twice as likely to become depressed as men. This increased risk of depression for women seems to be universal as the ratio of depression in men and women is basically consistent around the world.
Biology and Gender
Depression in women is most common between the ages of 25 and 44. But researchers see significant increases in female depression linked to changes in hormone levels. Before puberty, boys and girls are about even. But cases of depression become more common in girls as hormone levels fluctuate and sexual development begins. Pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause also bring about changes in hormones that can trigger depression.
Each of these stages in the life of a woman is a time when changes are taking place. Puberty is a time of self-discovery and increased pressure from parents and schools to make decisions and to succeed in a variety of ways. Pregnancy brings physical and emotional challenges including relationship issues, changes in work schedules or abilities, risk of miscarriage, and even difficulty becoming pregnant or carrying a baby to term. Pregnancy can also force changes in medication that can allow depression symptoms to grow. Perimenopause and menopause bring about hormone fluctuations as well as the emotional issues including loss of fertility and growing old. These stressors may contribute to the higher rate of depression among women.
Gender and socialization
Some studies also look at the roles of men and women and how they are raised for clues to the gender-specific differences in depression.