Recent research reveals that about one percent of the general population suffers from manic-depression and five percent suffers from major depression during their lives (Simonds, 2001, p. 86). However, the incidence for depression in women is twice as high or more; as many as one in five American women has a history of depression during her lifetime.
Due to the various social and medical problems presented by increasing numbers of women who suffer from depression, this topic is of utmost importance in today's society.
This paper will examine the causes and effects of depression in both young and older women; examine existing medical research for both groups; identify major differences in depression for young and older women; and present a conclusive analysis of observations.
To determine what the causes of depression are in young and older women, and to differentiate between the two groups, I will examine a series of medical reports and findings to conduct a thorough field study.
Clinical depression is best described as a medical illness that goes beyond feelings of sadness or defeat (Blumenthal, 1996). Depression is often characterized by changes in mood, concentration, sleep, activity, appetite, and social behavior.
Depression can develop in anyone at any age; and, while there are many methods of treatment, it is often a life-long condition in which periods of wellness alternate with periods of depression (Simonds, 2001, p. 47).
According to studies, approximately one out of every seven women will suffer from depression during their lives. The reasons that women, both young and old, are so susceptible to depression include many biological, genetic, psychological, and social factors.
On a biological level, there are a variety of significant links between mood changes and reproductive health occurrences (Blumenthal, 1996). As a result, the gender gap in depression is seen most during the female reproductive years.
Many young women experience signs of depression, including behavior and mood changes, premenstrually. Approximately 10% to 15% of women show signs of clinical depression during pregnancy or after giving birth. Research also shows an increase in depression during the perimenopausal period. However, after menopause, this does not appear to be the case.
There are also some genetic links to depression (Blumenthal, 1996). For example, many forms of depression run in families. "There is a 25% rate of depression in the first-degree relatives (mother, father, siblings) of people with depression and greater prevalence of the illness in first-degree and second-degree female relatives." However, depression also occurs in women who have no family history of the disease.
Some psychosocial factors that are linked to depression in both young and older women include the stress of multiple work and family responsibilities, sexual and physical abuse, sexual and age discrimination lack of social supports, traumatic life experiences, and financial problems.
An interesting series of studies of depression analyzing college students revealed no gender difference in the rates of depression, suggesting that increase in social equality may reduce the higher rates of depression in women.
Analysis of Depression in Young Women
While depression used to be a condition that was more commonly associated with seniors, research now reveals an increase in depression among younger adults, especially women.
According to Botsford General Hospital staff psychiatrist Jennifer Margolis, M.D. (The Botsford Health Care Continuum, 2000), there are two reasons for the increased number of depression diagnoses for young people.
First, physicians are now more willing to diagnose young individuals with clinical depression. Secondly, determining values, establishing self-identity and developing self-esteem in today's culture are more complex and more difficult. This is especially true for adolescents struggling with the normal developmental processes of connecting with their peers and differentiating themselves from their parents. This can result in a lack of direction, alienation, overemphasis on obtaining peer approval, unstable sense of identity and a sense of failure. And without the tools needed to cope, an adolescent can become mired in feelings of loneliness, worthlessness or hopelessness."
According to a recent study by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, young women are at very high risk of depression, which puts them at high risk for experiencing increased depression during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood (Rao, 1999).
The study surveyed 155 young women every year for five years, starting in their senior year of high schoo1. Thirty-seven percent of the women reported an initial episode of major depression during this period. Of the participants, nearly 50% of the women developed a first or repeated episode of major depression within five years after high school graduation.
According to the study, these women remained at high risk for further episodes of depression throughout the age range studied. However, the women were most likely to have an initial episode of depression between the ages of 18 and 19 years. This corresponded with the transition period of graduating from high school and going to college or moving away from home.
Of the young women surveyed, depression was more likely to develop in women with other types of psychiatric disorders, particularly anxiety and substance abuse. The effects of depression in these young women stretched into many areas of their lives, including performance in school, personal relationships and ability to work.
The high risk of depression during young women's late teens and twenties presents a significant concern, as this is a time when young women are developing crucial social and occupational skills (Rao, 1999).
Additional studies reveal that from early adolescence onward, there is a steady increase in the number of women who experience symptoms of depression. Women's risk for depression during their reproductive years also presents a significant social problem, as the risk of depression in children is greater when they have depressed mothers. In addition, depression has been identified as the fourth most common cause of disability worldwide and has surpassed accidents as a major cause of lost work time.
According to a study by the Environics Research Group (Merschino, 2002), women between the ages of 15 to 24 were the most likely to report depression. Research from the Statistics Canada National Population Health Survey also reported that women between the ages of 18 and 24 had the highest rates of depression.
Both studies showed a strong link between loneliness and depression, suggesting that the changes and upheavals of young adulthood make women particularly vulnerable to depression.
Further studies reveal that an increasing percentage of young women report that they experience a lot of stress during these years, which implies that the pressures placed on young women today may be increasing.
There are many aspects of physical change that have an effect on depression in young women. Approximately 75% of women of child-bearing age experience mood changes before menstruation, and about 50% have premenstrual syndrome (PMS) before menstruation (Simonds, 2001, p. 101).
While this is not a serious psychiatric disorder, three to five percent of menstruating women experience mood fluctuations so severe that their personal and work lives suffer. This is known as "premenstrual dysphoric disorder" and is seen as a form of depression.
During the transitional period from a woman's childbearing years to menopause, which occurs during the natural process of aging when the ovaries cease production of estrogen, and menstruation stops, women may experience a variety of problems including hot flashes, sleep difficulties, and depressed mood.
According to research, the incidence of depression in pregnant women is the same as in women who are not pregnant. According to Dr. Laura Calhoun, "the mean age of onset for depression overlaps with the childbearing years -- pregnancy is not protective for depression...We know too that there are changes to the body in a depressed, pregnant woman, including elevated cortisol -- which more than likely has an effect on the developing fetus."
Many factors that influence pregnant women's moods, such as changes in lifestyle, changes in work participation, and changes in body image, may contribute to feelings of depression during this time.
Menopause has been traditionally identified as a period when women are more likely to become depressed. However, recent research shows that depression is more likely to occur in the years during transition to menopause, a period that is referred to as the perimenopausal years. During this time, women experience gradual declines in estrogen levels, which are associated with onset of depression.
The effects of depression can be severe in both young and older women, often causing feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or despair. In addition, many women experience a loss of interest in activities, and changes in appetite, weight and sleep patterns may be an immediate result, as well as difficulty concentrating and preoccupation with death or suicide.
In addition, research shows that young women are less likely than older women to pursue traditional medical treatment, such as visiting a doctor or using medications. Instead, they favor alternative treatments, such as therapy, herbal remedies and vitamins.
Analysis of Depression in Older Women
Research reveals that older women report lower rates of depression than younger women, and there may be…