- Most men are brought up to be tough and macho and in this way to hide their feelings.
- Boys are often told not to be ‘Sissy’ and not to cry.
- Their mothers and fathers will want them to behave like ‘real men’.
“I have come across many scientific journals which claimed that depression is more common among females. Why could that be so?”
You have clearly been reading the right sort of journal because what you have learnt is indeed supported by scientific evidence. The evidence is that for every man diagnosed with depression, there two women. These statistics are true for most parts of the world.
Before we attempt to answer your question, however, let us look at an important question of whether depression as condition manifests in men in a different way from women. The simple answer to this question is that broadly speaking, there are significant differences in the way that men and women are socialised. This affects the manner in which they express their distress.
Most men are brought up to be tough and macho and in this way to hide their feelings. Boys are often told not to be ‘Sissy’ and not to cry. Their mothers and fathers will want them to behave like ‘real men’. This is obviously a generalisation and there are families where this is not the norm. In this example, the girls are allowed and encouraged to be expressive and have parental/societal permission, to be themselves to the point where crying is permitted in girls and frowned upon in boys. Depression is a most painful condition as those who have been through it testify.
This, however interesting, is not your question. You want to know why depression might be more common in women than in men. The simple answer is that there are many possible reasons and no one reason explains all the differences that are in evidence.
A story will explain this situation as we see the many challenges women go through in life.
A few years ago, we saw a 52 year- old woman who was clinically depressed. This was not the first episode of depression and we had seen her some years before. She had graduated from university at the age of 23 and had led a distinguished career in public service.
In quick succession, she had become a grandmother, a widow and had to look after her elderly in laws who had moved to her home just before her husband died in a road accident.
The dramatic change in roles was simply too much for her and she had taken to the bottle. We saw her at the insistence of her children who recognised the depression early.
It soon became clear to the family that she had gone through a number of episodes of depression in the past. The first was during adolescence. When in Form one, there were many problems at home and at school and it turned out she was not getting on with her parents, other girls as well as with herself in the sense that she hated her changing body shape and size. Her class performance dropped and she was seen by a mental health specialist who diagnosed her with depression. It is true that depression is more common in adolescent girls than in boys and this difference persists through life.
The next episode was when she was in second year at university. For most of her life, her menses had been an emotional and physical rollercoaster. Just before the end of semester exams she went to the University Health Services and asked for help. Like five percent of all women in the reproductive age, she was diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is a condition that is more serious than the commonly known PMS. This condition was added to the list of mental disorders in a recent classification system.
Years later, when she got her first child she was, like 15 percent of new mothers diagnosed with post natal depression. This is an important condition as it affects both the mother and her newborn child. It is not simply a case of maternity blues.
When we saw her this time round, she was in the menopausal stage of her life which was now being complicated by grief. The new role of grandmother did not insulate her from the depression.
As you can see, there are many events in a woman’s life that could lead to her developing depression that might not apply to men. All that said however, it is true that men die of suicide more commonly than women; indeed 70 percent of all suicides are by men. It is estimated that one person dies by suicide somewhere in the world every 40 seconds!
So, the answer to your question is that it is true that women suffer from depression more often than men but the reasons are not as simple or as clear as we would like them to be.