Depression

The 7 Reasons Why Depression is More Common in Women

Compared to men, women are twice as likely to develop depression.

Posted May 17, 2012

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

[Article revised on 28 April 2020.]

In recent decades depression has become increasingly common in industralized countries such as the US and the UK, and is often referred to by physicians as 'the common cold of psychiatry'.

Figures for the lifetime prevalence of depression vary according to the criteria used to define depression. Using DSM-IV's criteria for 'major depressive disorder' which are similar to the ICD-10 criteria for 'moderate depression', the lifetime prevalence of depression is about 15 percent and the point prevalence about 5 percent. This means that an average person has about a one in seven (15 percent) chance of developing depression in the course of his or her lifetime, and about a 1 in 20 (5 percent) chance of suffering from it at this very point in time.

However, these figures mask a very uneven gender distribution as depression is about twice as common in women than in men.

The reasons for this uneven gender distribution are not entirely clear, but are thought to be partly biological, partly psychological, and partly sociocultural.

Biological explanations

1. Compared to men, women are more subjected to fluctuating hormone levels. This is especially the case around the time of childbirth and the menopause, both of which are associated with an increased risk of developing depression.

2. Beyond this, women might also have a stronger genetic predisposition to developing depression.

Psychological explanations

3. Women are more ruminative than men, that is, they tend to think about things more—which, although generally a good thing, may predispose them to developing depression. In contrast, men are more likely to respond to difficult times with stoicism, anger, or alcohol or drug misuse.

4. Women also tend to be more invested in relationships than men, and, therefore, more affected by relationship problems.

Sociocultural explanations

5. Women come under more stress than men. Not only do they have to go to work just like men, but they may also be expected to bear the brunt of maintaining a home, bringing up children, caring for older relatives, and, after all that, putting up with all the sexism!

6. Women live longer than men, and extreme old age is associated with bereavement, loneliness, ill health, and precarity.

7. Finally, women are more likely to seek out a diagnosis of depression. They are more likely to consult a doctor and more likely to discuss their feelings with the doctor. Conversely, doctors, both male and female, may be more inclined to diagnose depression in a woman.

Perhaps you can think of some other reasons why depression is twice as common in women than in men, in which case please let us know in the comments section.

Neel Burton is author of Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions and other books.