Current statistics show that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety and depression. But not only that – both disorders hit women harder, according to a large body of research conducted over the past 30 years. As evidence shows, women diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are more likely to get an additional diagnosis of major depression or an eating disorder. What this means is that not only are anxiety and depression more prevalent in women, but they also tend to be more disabling. The reasons behind gender differences in the prevalence and severity of mood disorders are now well understood. Some claim that women are simply more likely to talk openly about their symptoms and seek help, but others find that the gender discrepancies have a biological basis proving the statistics valid. Here, we cover just some of the more recent findings explaining gender differences in mood disorders.
Women experience greater hormonal fluctuations during their lifetime than men, and hormones are known to affect mood by altering neurotransmitter functioning. Women experience shifting hormone levels through every menstrual cycle; they experience great hormonal changes during pregnancy; they experience great changes in hormone levels during menopause, and they are much more prone to thyroid disorders, which can also cause mood disorders. Just consider the high prevalence of PMS, postpartum depression, and menopausal mood disorders, and you see what a big role hormones play in mood regulation. An article published some time ago in the Journal of Affective Disorders explained that the patterns of hormonal events related to female reproduction are vulnerable to change and sensitive to outside factors.
The stress of personal relationships
Social scientists argue that women tend to be more involved in personal relationships than men. Today, women often take on the role of mother, spouse, and caregiver for aging parents, while simultaneously struggling to balance work with family demands. All this can prove too hard to handle for women, putting them at risk of stress, anxiety, and depression. According to a study published in Social Science & Medicine, women reported the quality of their family relationships as a determining factor in them developing symptoms of depression. Other than that, the women in this particular study said that gender roles and society’s expectations on women had a significantly strong impact on their mental health.
Sexual abuse and violence
Women are more likely to experience sexual abuse and violence as children or adults, and this predisposes them to develop anxiety and depression. According to RAINN, young females are four times more likely to be the victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Furthermore, it is believed that 1 out of 6 women in the US have been the victim of attempted or complete rape while the figure for men is 1 out of 10. Women are also more often victims of domestic violence. Sexual abuse and violence are acts that inflict great physical and psychological harm to the victim. Some victims are afraid or feel ashamed of what has happened and avoid reporting the perpetrator and delay seeking counseling to help them cope with the trauma. As a result, they may suffer residual anxiety for years after they have experienced the abuse.
Women live longer
Because women live on average 5 years longer than men, they tend to be more often predisposed to situations that increase their risk of depression and anxiety. Old age is associated with poor physical health, loneliness, and bereavement, which are all risk factors for depression. Living longer for women often means becoming widowed, which can create both depression and anxiety. A study published in Health Psychology found that widowed women reported worse physical and mental health compared to married women. Losing a spouse causes enough stress for a person to neglect their own health, and this can more often than not lead to worse mental health.
Women are more likely to seek help
As already mentioned at the beginning of this article, women are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder simply because they seek help. Another reason why women are more likely to get a diagnosis of a mood disorder is because they often exhibit the symptoms typical of the disorder. For instance, a study published in The JAMA Network found that men often experience anger, aggression, substance abuse, and take risks when depressed, which are not symptoms usually associated with depression. This may lead to men being misdiagnosed with a personality or other disorder and men themselves may fail to recognize their symptoms as indicative of a mood problem.
In summary, anxiety and depression, which are two of the most common mood disorders, are more often diagnosed in women than in men. Researchers believe the reason for this may lie in the hormonal, physiological, and sociological differences between the two sexes. However, some also argue that women are more prone to help-seeking behaviors, making it more likely for them to get a proper diagnosis. Men, on the other hand, may not recognize their symptoms as a sign of a mood disorder and they may self-medicate instead. If you’re noticing symptoms like low mood, poor memory, difficulty focusing, and appetite changes, instead of googling how to improve memory or increase your energy levels, take into account that you may be suffering from a mood disorder.