Why Are So Many Women Depressed?; Women's Health; Scientific American Presents; by Leibenluft, sidebar by Leutwyler; 6 Page(s)
The symptoms of depression range from uncomfortable to debilitating: sleep disturbances, hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and sometimes even delusions. Most of us have watched a relative or friend struggle with depression-and many of us have experienced it ourselves. Even so, few people realize just how common depression is, how severe it can be or that it is most prevalent among women. In 1990 the World Health Organization found depression to be the leading cause of "disease burden" (a composite measure including both illness and death) among women, noting that it affects almost 20 percent of the female population in the developed world. Epidemiological studies indicate that 12 percent of U.S. women-compared with only 6 percent of U.S. men-have suffered from clinically significant depression at some time in their lives.
The big question, of course, is why such a gender gap exists. Over the years various explanations have surfaced to account for the fact that, from one study to the next, depression is between two and three times more common among women than it is among men. Some mental health workers have pointed to psychology, arguing that women are better trained to recognize their feelings and seek help, so they come to the attention of health professionals more often than men. Others have suggested that oppression-in the form of physical or sexual abuse, harassment or discrimination-is to blame. Others still have attributed the increased rates of depression among women to the female reproductive system and the menstrual cycle.