Do more women suffer from depression than men?
Maggie Scarf, a science writer who has studied depression in women for the past four years, thinks so. In her article, "The More Sorrowful Sex," in a past edition of Psychology Today, she points out that psychological studies have found two to six times as many women as men diagnosed as clinically depressed. But do these results really mean that more women suffer from depression than men? Perhaps these differences are more apparent than real. Perhaps more women admit to feelings of depression than men, or are more willing to seek treatment for their emotional pain.
In other words, maybe men and women suffer equally from depression, but more women are diagnosed as depressed because they have more contacts with mental health professionals who so label them.
This argument does hold up under close examination, however. Community studies of random samples of people have still found more women than men who are depressed, whether or not they are in treatment.
The undeniable fact of the matter is that more women than men do suffer from depression. The differences found in many psychological studies are real, and not artificial.
And the reason why, according to Ms. Scarf, is cultural. Women learn patterns of behavior that make them more susceptible to depression. From infancy to adulthood, women are taught to be more dependent upon than men. As a result, they have a greater need for approval from others, and a greater fear of rejection or loss of love.
In effect, women tend to base their self-concepts not so much upon what they think about themselves as upon what others think of them. Their self-esteem tends to result from external evaluations and not their own internal judgments. They find their sense of worth in loving relationships with others.
Women, then, are not encouraged to develop independent self-concepts. More than is the case with men, their moods and opinions of themselves depend upon the moods and reactions of those around them.
All of which means that women are more vulnerable to interpersonal changes than men, and therefore more vulnerable to depression. Any loss of support or failure in love, while affecting men, can result in a more severe depression in women. By contrast, men, who are taught to be more aggressive, competitive and independent, find their sense of worth in status, power and success.
The incidence of depressive disorders is increasing in present day America. Indeed, it has been suggested that this is the "Age of Melancholy." What may be contributing to this increase, especially among women, is the breakdown in loving relationships, as evidenced by our high divorce rate, and the geographical mobility of many Americans. The supports of family, marriage, friendship and neighborhood are probably not as strong as they once were. And the fact that an estimated 40 million Americans, two-thirds of whom are women, have been affected by depression, suggests that many people have suffered from a loss or weakening of their support systems.
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