Depression is among the most studied psychiatric disorders in the world. While it is known that every person will go through periods of mild, short-term depression (following a death, divorce, etc.), there is a growing number of individuals who are experiencing depression on a much more serious scale. Among the research findings is a curious finding that women suffer the condition at a much greater rate than men. Again, this means that women suffer clinical depression at a much greater rate than men. The research has tried to determine the causes, symptoms and treatments for the condition, and there has been some success in this endeavor. In this paper, depression's causes, symptoms and treatments modalities will be examined as they apply to women as a body.
It may seem necessary to discuss symptoms before causes since it is easier to delineate what the symptoms are than the vast array of causes, but the research has determined a pattern that is present with regard to causes of depression. A close examination shows that very few distinct causes are experienced by women in different circumstances which may make them look distinct, but in actuality the causation is similar. First, the disorder itself and its specific relationship to women needs to be understood.
Throughout the world, depression is one of the leading disorders linked to healthcare visits according to the World Health Organization (Stoppard, 1999). As a matter of fact, the WHO expects depression to be the second most expensive and prominent reason for healthcare visits by 2020 (Stoppard, 1999). This data is consistent with the increased prevalence of the disorder in many countries that have been treating the condition for decades. It seems that the incidence of depression has increased greatly since the introduction of psychotropics that are designed to treat it. "The number of antidepressant prescriptions in Canada has increased exponentially, from 3.2 million in 1981 to 14.5 million in 2000, and the percentage of persons treated for depression with antidepressants in the U.S. jumped from 37.3% in 1987 to 74.5% in 1997" (Hagen, Wong-Wylie & Pijl-Zieber, 2010). Those numbers have grown even larger in the past decade since this data was taken. Depression seems to be a disorder that most people can understand, and the need to combat it has actually produced a greater need for the treatment.
Researchers tend to define depression in different ways depending on their specific need while conducting a study. This has led to some confusion when people examine studies to determine what the body of research actually says. "Depression can be considered as a state, trait or a symptom that is secondary to a physical or a physiological disorder. Second, it refers to a well-defined mood disorder that has behavioral, cognitive and emotional symptoms" (Cirakoglu, Kokdemir & Demirutku, 2003). Which description the researcher uses for his or her study is an important distinction when it comes to variables which present themselves during the study.
One of these variables is gender. It is acknowledged that more women than men suffer from the condition, but the debate about the validity of this claim gets stronger as more men seek treatment. In general, "Major depressive disorder occurs in about 15% of the general population, with a lifetime prevalence of about 10%-25% in women" (Craig, 2009). This shows that women are more likely to be diagnosed with major depression than men, but it also shows that a significant part of the population will be diagnosed with major depression at any one time regardless the individual's status as a male or female. In the United States, "more than 14 million people reportedly suffer from depression, with the majority of that group being women" (Hurt, 2007). Of course, this study did not say how large that majority is because it is difficult to quantify. Women may suffer a greater amount of clinical symptoms, but that may be due to circumstances rather than a greater predisposition for the disorder.
This can be seen in the data that has been collected regarding the causation of depression among women. Women around the world are more responsible for childcare and other domestic duties than men, and this has been studied as a cause. One group of researchers found that "Gender differences surrounding problems like depression may be due in part to the fact that women generally carry a heavier burden of parental and domestic responsibilities, which can create a great deal of tension" (Hernandez, Aranda & Ramirez, 2009). This study was conducted with women in Mexico, but these findings can be extrapolated to the greater world population. In areas of the world where women have not left the home to pursue outside employment to any great extent, this cause of depression would seem to be greater, but industrialized countries in which women both work outside the home and still perform the majority of household tasks the incidence of depression can be even greater (Stoppard, 1999).
Another gender-related cause of depression is motherhood. The primary research into this area of a woman's life has to do with whether the mother is single or married and what the condition of the marriage is. Researchers found that "Mothers who are separated or divorced exhibit a higher incidence of depression and general anxiety than those who stay married. On the other hand & #8230; widows experience significantly more depressive symptoms than single or married mothers" (Hernandez, Aranda & Ramirez, 2009). These researchers tried to determine why single mothers were more likely to be depressed and found that an increased amount of stress due to childcare and financial difficulties was the main reason. In women who have been widowed, this fact remains true also. A widowed woman is more likely to be depressed because of financial worries than because of the death of their spouse (Hernandez, Aranda & Ramirez, 2009).
Financial difficulty is actually more prominent with male sufferers than women, but stress, as an overall underlying cause, is greater among women. "A considerable body of research over the past several decades has found a consistent association between exposure to stressful life events and chronic stressors on the one hand and depressed mood or major depression on the other hand" (Grote, Bledsoe, Larkin, Lemay & Brown, 2007). Stress can come in many forms, and it is not only a cause of depression in women, but, as mentioned above, women have stressors that men are not a party to generally. However some of the stressful life events that cause incidents of major depression occur with both men and women.
For example, people who have chronic financial difficulties (meaning that they are considered poor or low on the socioeconomic scale) are more likely to be depressed than people who are financially satisfied. This also seems to be tied to whether a person is a minority or not. Researchers found that "poverty by itself or the interaction of poverty and racial minority status, as well as exposure to acute and chronic stressors, constitute risk factors for depression. Poverty is predictive of increases in exposure to acute and chronic stressors and is related to a twofold risk of major depressive disorder" (Grote, et al., 2007). Because people who have little income are exposed to greater stressors in their everyday lives, they are more likely to have symptoms consistent with major depression. The stress is intensified if the person does not fit into the type of the majority culture also.
Another issue with women that can cause a great deal of stress and therefore lead to depressive episodes is body image. There is some evidence that this is a problem for both men and women, but research indicates that the problem is much greater for women than men. "Depression is an important contributing factor to the development of body image and shape dissatisfaction. It is well-known that overweight women are significantly more likely to experience depression than controls with a normal BMI" (Sides-Moore & Tochkov, 2011). A great deal of research has been conducted regarding this particular issue because of the increased incidence of body image-related disorders among teens and young women. Depression is a significant contributor to a young woman's need to appear thinner, so the development of bulimia or anorexia nervosa is significantly tied to depression ((Sides-Moore & Tochkov, 2011).
The causes of depression are important to understand, and they manifest themselves in some very specific ways. The Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (APA, 1994) lists nine criteria (of which five must be met) for an episode to be considered a major depressive episode. These are:
depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day feelings of worthlessness or…