Gender differences in depression prevalence have been globally recognized, with women experiencing major depression more frequently as compared to men. The risk of depression stays independent of race or ethnicity.
A huge study conducted in 2017 found that these gender differences start emerging at the age of 12, with females being twice as likely as males to experience depression.
Many risk factors have been studied that might account for the contrast in depression prevalence between the genders. Let’s have a look at them.
Since the peak years of depressive disorders in women collides with their reproductive years that is between the ages of 25 to 44 years, hormonal risk factors may play a role.
Estrogen and progesterone affect neurotransmitter, circadian and neuroendocrine systems that account for mood disorders.
The fact that women often undergo mood disorders associated with their menstrual cycle, such as PMDD also points to a relationship between female sex hormones and mood.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a mood disorder characterized by depressive symptoms that occur even before the start of the menstrual cycle.
According to a research, PMDD is linked to a gene alteration in women which increases sensitivity to the reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
Moreover, the hormonal fluctuations due to giving birth are a common trigger for mood disorders among women.
The occurrence of postpartum depression in women is likely to be linked to the dramatic hormonal changes which take place immediately after child birth.
Even though menopause is a time when a woman’s risk of depression is quite less, the perimenopausal period can have an increased risk for those with a history of frequent major depression.
Other hormonal factors that might contribute to female’s risk for depression can be sex differences related to the HPA, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and to thyroid function.
Researchers suggest that gender differences in socialization might play a role here as well.
Women are socially expected to be more nurturing and sensitive to the opinions of others, while men from a young age are encouraged to develop a greater sense of control and independence in their lives.
Masculine gender socialization or misogyny emphasizes norms among men such as stoicism, toughness, and the avoidance and frowns upon anything considered as feminine, including displays of emotion.
Some researchers think that this type of social pressure may cause depression to manifest differently in men compared to women.
There is also a theory that women who become mothers and housewives may find their roles undervalued by society.
Where as women who pursue a career outside their homes, may face discrimination and job inequality as well as conflicts between their role as a wife and a mother and their work.
Such pressure might trigger depression in women whether they stay home or not.
The stereotypes of gender roles and gender traits has been associated with how well or bad people cope with stress and the effects that stress has on their health.
Researchers have found that such socialization benefits men in terms of overall health in contrast to women.
Studies prove that females tend to have more emotion focused and ruminative coping mechanisms like mulling their problems over in their minds.
While men are likely to use a more problem-focused, distracting style as coping mechanisms to help them forget their troubles.
It has been hypothesized that such ruminative coping patterns of women might be leading to longer and more severe episodes of depression and contribution to women’s greater vulnerability to depression disorders.
Stressful Life Events
Evidence suggests that throughout their lives, women may experience more stressful life events and have much greater sensitivity to them than men.
Adolescent girls are likely to report more negative life events than young boys, usually related to relationships with their parents and friends, and naturally they experience higher levels of stress related to them.
Studies on adults have found that women are more likely to become depressed due to a stressful life event than men. Many women experience a stressful event within six months prior to a major depressive disorder.
Some researchers also suggest that there actually may be no difference in prevalence of depression between men and women.
Such researchers propose that since women seek help more often than men or report their symptoms differently, this might be the reason which leads to them being diagnosed more often than men.
There have been several researches which indicate that males experience depression differently than females do, as well as the fact that depression among males may also be underdiagnosed.
Men tend to experience symptoms such as anger disorders, irritability, sleeping disorders, and substance use. They are also more likely to describe the depressive symptoms as mere stress rather than feelings of depression and sadness.
JAMA Psychiatry published a study which found that when depression was measured with these so-call male symptoms, men actually had slightly higher rates of depression than women, 26.3% for men and 21.9% for women.
Depression is an extremely complex condition that does not have a single or simple cause. Further research is yet to be done to understand sex or gender differences in depression rates.
The existing studies show that biological differences between men and women play a significant role in explaining these differences.