Mindy Wudarsky July 5, 2000 The Physical Self Causes of Higher Depression Rates among Women Depression is an illness that plagues millions of Americans. The depressed person is not only emotionally unwell; he or she also often becomes physically unwell as a result of the depression. The Department of Health and Human Services lists among the symptoms of depression decreased energy, overeating or eating too little, insomnia or oversleeping and chronic aches or other symptoms not associated with a physical disease. Also listed as depressive symptoms are difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness/guilt/worthlessness, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, and thoughts of suicide (Sargent, 3-4).
Depression clearly effects ones physical state as well as the mental. Studies have found that women are twice as likely to experience both moderate and severe depression than men (Nolan-Hoeksema 1990). The reasons women are more likely to suffer from depression are numerous. There are biological, emotional, and social explanations for this.
The following paragraphs will discuss the physical and psychological differences between men and women to further understand the great number of women subject to this illness. Women are often at the mercy of their reproductive system. They experience pre-menstrual syndrome, pre-natal depression, post-partum depression, abortions, miscarriages, and menopause; all which are almost entirely foreign ideas to men. It is very common for women to report symptoms of depression during the phases of the reproductive cycle when their estrogen and progesterone levels are low.
Also a “number of investigators have argued that depression is the result of a mutant gene on the X chromosome. Because females have two X chromosomes [and men have only one] they have a higher risk of depression than males (Nolan-Hoeksema 1990)”. While these theories have been explored, they are hard to prove because so many other factors contribute to depression. Thus far, “biological explanations of sex differences in depression have not been well supported (Nolan-Hoeksema 1990).” Social problems certainly factor heavily in the high depression rate for women. One issue that is a stressor in the lives of women is that they are not on an equal level with men in the work field. They receive less pay for the same work, and are often looked over for promotions because of their gender.
And often the women who do maintain a career outside the home are the ones who also do the cleaning and the housework for their family (Nolan, 18-9). In addition to problems of the workplace, women are also much more likely to victims of violent crimes, such as rape and domestic abuse, than men are. Certainly incidents such as rape, domestic violence and incest make a wonderful fuel for depression. And if this were not enough, women and children make up three-fourths of the poverty-stricken population. “Among women, the highest rates for depression were experienced by those 18-29 years old in the lowest [socioeconomic status] quartile (McGrath, 33).” Women have grown to accept that they will maintain very little control over the events that effect them at the workplace, in their homes and in life. “As a result they showed lowered motivation and self-esteem in other words, helplessness and depression (Nolan-Hoeksema 1990).” The most significant factor in the large numbers of depressive women is their emotional wellness.
“Theories hold that non-assertiveness, dependency and the tendency to be self-effacing put an individual at risk. Because these characteristics are supposedly more common in females than in males, females are more vulnerable to depression (Nolan-Hoeksema 1990).” Women not only feel they have to please everyone before caring themselves, they also tend to strongly link their self-worth to their appearance. Women have to be aggressive and independent in the workplace, nurturing and caring at home, and also fitting the current ideal of beauty. “These conflicting demands are likely to create..distress for many women. This distress may be a factor in why some women become bulimic, as some researchers have found that women who experience more stress are at greater risk for binge eating (Brazelton, Greene, Gynther, & OMell, 1998).” Of course, men have emotional problems of their own and do suffer from depression. Interesting research was conducted by a group who created a hypothetical character that was diagnosed with chronic depression and asked college students for their ideas to help alleviate his/her depression.
Whether the character was male or female, the men polled responded that a relationship would be a good way for this person to overcome depression. The women polled were less likely to think a significant other a viable solution. Also, when the character was a male, all respondents felt more strongly about him finding a mate than when the character was a female. While women tend to need more from others, men seem to take longer to recover from broken relationships and are less likely to be depressed when involved in a serious relationship McNeill, Riezni, Butler, & Doty, 1996).
Men are faced with issues and circumstances that are stressful but seem to cope with them in a different way. “Depression and alcohol are [both] geometrically linked, with depressive features linked to female chromosomes and alcoholic features linked male chromosomes (Nolan-Hoeksema 1990). Alcohol and depression are different responses to the same sorts of stimuli. But studies do show many symptoms of depression among alcoholic men. Similar to bulimia in women, depression can trigger alcoholism and alcoholism can trigger depression (Nolan-Hoeksema 1990). While the symptoms used to diagnose a depressive personality are very general and could apply to most people during some point in their life, there is certainly a large population suffering from this illness.
There are many treatment options available, ranging from natural remedies to shock therapy. Sadly the number of people with prescriptions for anti-depressants has skyrocketed in the last ten years, particularly in young women. Hopefully as women gain more equality in our society, the gender gap in depressive personalities will begin to lessen. With awareness of this problem and information about treatment methods people would be better able to help themselves and others. It would be wonderful to see more healthy treatments replace all of the highly addictive prescriptions that are handed out so easily today.
Until then, all anyone can do is the best they can. Bibliography Works Cited Brazelton, E., Greene, K., Gynther, M. & O’Mell, J. (1998). Feminity, bulimia, and distress in college women. Psychological Reports, 83, 355-363.
McGrath, E., Keita, G., Strickland, B. , N. (Eds.). (1990).
Women and depression: Risk factors and treatment issues. Washington, DC; American Psycological Association. McNeill, D., Rienzi, B., Butler, M., & Doty, M. (1996) College studente’ attitudes toward finding a mate to escape depression: Sex differences. Psychological Reports, 79, 745-746.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1990). Sex Differences in Depression. Stanford, CA; Sanford University Press.
Sargent, M. (1989). Depressive illnesses: Treatments bring new hope. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Works Cited Brazelton, E., Greene, K., Gynther, M. & O’Mell, J. (1998). Feminity, bulimia, and distress in college women.
Psychological Reports, 83, 355-363. McGrath, E., Keita, G., Strickland, B. , N. (Eds.).
(1990). Women and depression: Risk factors and treatment issues. Washington, DC; American Psycological Association. McNeill, D., Rienzi, B., Butler, M., & Doty, M.
(1996) College studente’ attitudes toward finding a mate to escape depression: Sex differences. Psychological Reports, 79, 745-746. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1990).
Sex Differences in Depression. Stanford, CA; Sanford University Press. Sargent, M. (1989).
Depressive illnesses: Treatments bring new hope. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.