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 one’s 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, & O’Mell, 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,