The Role of Gender in Depression
Brooke Shields, Jim Carrey, Princess Diana, and Van Gogh, all had something in common. Besides being famous, they all suffered from depression.
Depression affects 18.8 million people a year. A medical working definition states that “depression is a psychological disorder characterized by long bouts of severe mood disturbance or excessive elation” (Downing-Orr 26). Depression interferes with an individual’s ability to function. It disturbs both the mind and the body, sufferers’ thoughts change, their mood shifts, and even the way they feel about themselves distorts.
A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. People with depression with feel extremely unhappy in such a way that there is no comfort or relief available to alleviate their sadness. However, with the “blues” one can find happiness and pleasure through time, within periods and moments.
With depression, there is no happiness or relief from the extreme sadness (Downing-Orr 30). Symptoms include anxiety, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism; lose of interest in hobbies, decreased sex drive, and fatigue. Depressives often have trouble sleeping and they experience changes in their weight and appetite, either gaining or losing weight. If depression goes untreated, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years.
Doctor JM Ussher states, “Surveys, hospital admissions, and statistics…all concur: adult women report more mental health problems than men, and are more likely to be diagnosed and treated for madness” (Caplan 127). His assertion has been reinforced all over the globe. More and more studies, rates, and research show that depression is twice as likely to occur in women then in men. In children, depression occurs in mostly the same rate between genders until the age of twelve, and if anything boys show more depressive symptoms than girls at that age (Mazure 10). However after the age of twelve, depression becomes twice more prevalent in females than in males.
This two-to-one ratio exists regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status. The same ratio has been reported in eleven other countries all over the globe (Franklin). So why are women more susceptible to depression than men? What role does gender play in the onset and experience of depression? How does depression differ across gender? There are several components within the answer to these questions. The causes of depression, the way it appears, and the way it is dealt with all factor into why more women suffer from depressive disorders than men.
First, there are three primary types of depression: major depression, dysthymia, and manic depression (Behrman). Major depression is the most common type of depression (Blehar). It is more intense than dysthymia which is where sufferers walk around feeling simply sad.
They are not even aware of their disorder; they assume their state is a normal state of mind. The most powerful form of depression is manic depression, also called bipolar disorder. It is not as common as major depression or dysthymia but it is the most severe. A sufferer of manic depression experiences quick and sudden changes of intense mood, ranging from extreme sadness to euphoria. A greater number of women experience manic depression than men. Generally, they have more depressive episodes than manic ones. Differences in the type of depression more common among particular genders are generally due to the severity of the causes that induced the disorder.
The causes of depression in women are much more biologically intense than in men. There are always genetic factors involved which apply to both men and women, however biochemical bodily changes apply for women only. Each woman must go through processes which disrupt the secretion of hormones, chemicals which regulate mood (Downing-Orr 35). These processes include menstruation, childbirth, postpartum, menopause, etc. They also affect neurotransmitters, brain chemicals which help balance moods, to be deregulated (Belhar). Therefore, depression becomes a highly likely disorder after these aspects come into play. Obviously, many of the biological factors causing women’s depression are nonexistent for men simply because of gender.
A huge cause of depression in both men and women is the stress of social and gender roles. It appears that negative thinking patterns typically develop in childhood or adolescence (Mazure 12). Therefore research suggests that the traditional upbringing of girls might foster traits of negative thinking which help result in higher rates of depression for women. Females grow up with the pressures of self-image, self-esteem, and beauty being pushed upon them. Sometimes girls are told they are not good enough, not pretty enough, or simply not worth it. These issues contribute to their negative thinking patterns, causing pessimism which helps with the onset of depressive thoughts then depressive disorders. Therefore, after the age of twelve, after puberty, when gender roles become more defined, depression rates in women increase significantly.
Due to all the roles women must juggle and sort, many women often feel as though they have little control over life events. These feelings along with the traditional, stereotypical upbringings of women as limited to their sex role expectations increase the stressors which lead to depression. These stresses include major responsibilities at home and at work, parenthood, caring for children and aging parents. In many families, even though both the male and the female working, the woman often has the greater responsibility in the child care and in the household. Therefore, many women must juggle the roles of wife, mother and career women all at once. This often causes role conflict which increases any stressors that are already existent, helping with the onset of depression.
Men must also deal with their gender roles appropriately. Typically they have to be the provider for the family and the protector. Cultural factors and status factors state that they must always be strong. However, for men, the major cause of depression is work stress. A work stress study was done using the Job Strain Model which attempts to show that high job strain leads to mental health problems. This study did not plan to distinguish between men and women; however in analyzing the results, it was necessary to do so in order to accurately present the data, showing that the difference between depressive disorders in men and women is clear and crucial. Results showed that women tended to have higher job strain then men (Work). They were often placed in more active jobs with lower job control, causing a high amount of job strain which led to depressive disorders. As for men, their jobs had high job control and mostly low job strain. Men with high grade jobs and non-manual jobs had more job strain and more depressive systems then men in other types of jobs.
These results led to an important finding. Men deal with their depression differently then women. Men in non-manual jobs had more depressive disorders than men in manual jobs because men tend to actively deal with their depression. Therefore, with a manual job, a man can release his frustration and decrease his stress.
As mentioned, women’s depression rates become twice that of men’s after age of twelve, but also after that age, males began to show much more violent tendencies then before, showing that depression may often go undetected in males because of the way they deal with it. They are less likely to think about and mull over their depressed feelings, instead they outwardly channel their emotions.
Men often use drugs and alcohol to deal with their depression. Unlike women, they do not easily acknowledge or admit to their disorder. Instead they drink to get numb, exercise, watch TV, and engage in more violent activities (Davis). Women, on the other hand, want to think things over, talk, express their feelings, etc. Many depressives deal with their depression by attempting suicide.
Women attempt it more then men, but men succeed four times more then women (Caplan 27). Because of these differences in dealing methods, it is harder to detect depression in men than in women. Therefore one must ask the question: are women really more depressed than men or are the rates skewed just because it is harder to diagnose depression in men due to the way they deal with their symptoms?
It is clear that gender plays a significant role in the onset and experience of depression. Men have less physical and biological factors leading to depression which give them a higher tolerance to the disorder.
Their depression is mostly brought on by work stress while women’s is induced by biological factors and sex role intensities. Women tend to inwardly direct their depressive symptoms, while males tend to deal with the disorder outwardly and actively. Since, depression can be fatal it should be taken seriously and treated appropriately.
Even treating depression across genders differs. Some drugs have been found to work on women and not on men.
In a comparison anti-depressive agents of sertraline and imipramine, it was found that women responded to sertraline more then men and vice versa (Mazure 47). There are often sex-specific processes that affect the way treatments work.
Brain function or structure may relate to the different responses in men and women. Also, some medications are distributed and metabolized differently in men than in women. Many times hormone receptors interact with the drug-related receptors causing a variation in treatment success across genders.
Hence, in treating depression, gender must be taken into consideration.
The role that gender plays in depression cannot be ignored. Social factors, gender roles, and coping skills increase the divide between men and women in depression.
However, is the divide as deep as it appears? Depression is harder to detect in men because of the way men deal with their symptoms. Therefore, there should be a greater effort to find out how many men are really suffering from depression because for depression to be treated, it must first be detected.