The worldwide rate of depression is going up. And we are also seeing an increase in the disparity between how depression affects women and men.
For years, psychologists have known that depression affects women at higher rates than men. However, that rate has reached a new high. Women are now 2-3 times more likely than men to develop depression. Additionally, women are more likely to report symptoms with higher severity, and experience depression that last longer than men. Women also report higher rates of rumination (worrying about the future), irritability, and changes in sleep. To make matters worse, women are more likely report that they experience anxiety along with their depression.
Psychologists have wondered if these gender-differences are a result of gender-roles within our culture. The idea is that men may have grown up with explicit and implicit prohibitions about disclosing that they are in distress. And the assumption was that men may still be experiencing the same rates of depression as women, but that they just aren’t talking about it.
That assumption is likely turning out to be false. In other words, research is pointing to the explanation that depression develops differently in men and women. And that these differences are physiological in nature. **
When analyzing differences between depressed women and men, researchers have now found that women have higher levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol. We’ve also discovered that women and men react differently to antidepressants and antianxiety medications. Neurologically, depressed women show lower neuronal density of serotonin receptors (the neurotransmitter associated with depression), and lower levels of serotonin itself. Finally, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), researchers have found that depressed women show lower volumes in areas of the brain associated with emotions and emotional control than their depressed male counterparts.
The conclusion seems to be clear: although it has the same name, the depression experienced by women is physiologically and psychologically different than that of men. And the implication is clear, too. Because of these differences, psychologists should take gender differences into consideration when providing treatment for depression. Psychologists should be aware of the fact that women are likely to be experiencing depression that is more severe and of longer duration than men, and that women are likely to also be experiencing anxiety symptoms along with depression.
Currently there are not any major gender-specific treatment methods in psychology. But the treatment plan we create with you at Therapy Summit takes into consideration all of the factors listed in this article. When creating a plan with you, we consider your gender, age, cultural identity, life circumstances, and much more. We believe in providing therapy that is holistic, comprehensive, and encompassing of the entirety of what makes you a unique individual. Because we want to help you feel better, we tailor our therapy to meet your specific needs. This ensures that you can be successful in climbing out of depression and enjoying life again.
**At this point, it is not clear what these differences mean for transgender individuals. More research will need to be done in the future to understand how depression presents physiologically and psychologically in transgender individuals.