Are Women <em>Really</em> The Sadder Sex?


A new study in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology says that European women are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from depression than men. In pure numbers, this means that of the 30.3 million depressed Europeans, about 23 million are women.

According to the study's author, Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, the number of depressive episodes in women has also doubled in the last 30 years. "In females, you see these incredibly high rates of depressive episodes at times when they sometimes have their babies, where they raise children, where they have to cope with the double responsibility of job and family," he said in a statement.

This isn't the first time that researchers have highlighted the high rate of depressive disorders in women. Statistics say that American women are twice as likely to be depressed as men. A 2010 British study found that 18.7 percent of women over the age of 50 experienced depressive systems. By contrast, only 11.8 percent of men in the same age group experienced similar symptoms.

The question, then, is not whether women are more depressed than men, but why they are. And concurrently, are women really unhappier than they were three decades ago?

According to Professor Wittchen, part of the problem is the "tremendous burden" of trying to do it all -- that curse of the 21st century woman who wants to have a family and a career. Indeed, recent research found that "supermoms" who try to have stellar careers while juggling a full family life -- and expect that they can be good at both -- are at greater risk for depression. Besides, the landmark 2009 paper "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness" documented -- in perplexing detail -- the ways in which today's women are unhappier than their counterparts a generation ago.

But surely women have it better now than they did in the middle of the century, when societal expectation of women ended at the ability bake a flawless pie. Another theory, then, is that women are just better at asking for help. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost four times as many men as women die by suicide. Another survey -- of 30,000 people in 30 countries -- found that women are much more likely to say that they are stressed than men under similar circumstances.

Wittchen also said that depression is most likely to strike women between the ages of 25 and 40, when they are at their most fertile. Also at play, then, are the hormonal changes that women frequently experience during and after pregnancy. In her book “A Deeper Shade of Blue: A Woman’s Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Her Childbearing Years,” Ruta Nonecs describes the challenges faced by women in their childbearing years:

"Not only is a woman exposed to different types of hormones and different levels of these hormones than a man, throughout her reproductive years she experiences constant hormonal fluctuations. … Experts believe that these hormonal shifts may act as a trigger for depression in some women and that women who have premenstrual mood changes may also be more vulnerable to depression at other times when exposed to significant hormonal fluctuations, such as after childbirth or during the transition to menopause.

So which is it? Why are women unhappier, if at all? Do they just have better access to mental health treatments? Is it hormonal? Are we the sadder sex? Or is it a deeper societal malaise that will still take decades to fix? Tell us what you think below.

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