Women are twice as likely to experience major depression than men. They are also up to three times more apt to suffer from anxiety disorders or to attempt suicide. While the reasons are unclear, possible explanations include: (1) Hormonal differences, (2) Women have a stronger genetic predisposition for depression than men based on identical and fraternal twin studies, as well as documented and detailed family history records. (3) Women tend to be more involved in personal relationships than men and suffer more when they are disrupted. More married women and housewives have increasingly entered the workforce and find it difficult to juggle job and family responsibilities, such as caring for an elderly relative. A major European study covering over 30 countries with a combined population of 514 million people recently reported that depression in middle-aged women had doubled in 40 years because of these pressures. Women between the ages of 25 and 40 were three to four times more likely to become depressed than men. (4) Women live longer than men and extreme old age is often associated with bereavement, loneliness, poor physical health, and other factors that predispose to depression. (5) Women are more likely than men to consult a physician if they do not feel well or have symptoms of depression, and are therefore more likely to be diagnosed. There is also some evidence that both male as well as female physicians are more apt to make a diagnosis of depression in women than men with identical complaints. (6) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD syndrome) is four times more common in women than men, and its incidence increases the farther away you live from the Equator. For example, Tromso, a city in Norway 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, has close to 50 days during the winter when the sun is never seen. This period is referred to as morketi den (murky time) and as one psychiatrist noted, “The whole city slows down, people’s concentration and work capacity are reduced and they are always tired. There is a definite increase in depression, particularly in women.”
Paul J. Rosch, MD, FACP
Dr. Paul J. Rosch is current Chairman of the Board of The American Institute of Stress, Clinical Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at New York Medical College, Honorary Vice President of the International Stress Management Association and has served as Chair of its U.S. branch. You canfollow AIS on Twitter, watch AIS videos on You Tube, become a fan of AIS on Facebook and subscribe to one or both free AIS magazines to receive the latest stress information and research from around the globe directly to your inbox.