Depression- an overwhelming feeling of sadness and hopelessness that can last for months or years and can make people feel that life is no longer worth living. Unfortunately, women are twice as likely to suffer from depression although some experts argue ‘they are twice as likely to be diagnosed because they seek help’.
It is no secret that this illness is considered a ‘white’ disease despite statistical data showing that more than 5 percent of the population that suffers from depression are in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. This year’s World Health Day commemorations are focusing on depression the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. According to the latest estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.
The above said, there are different biological, hormonal, and social factors that are unique to women in as far as depression is concerned. Women have higher rates of seasonal affective disorder, depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder, and dysthymia (chronic depression).
Women experience much more fluctuation in hormone levels that are associated with symptoms of depression. The reproductive life cycle of some women makes them more prone to the condition. This could explain the change in attitude or behaviour for some women or girls during their menstrual cycle. The same can be said about the mood swings that some pregnant women and new mothers experience? Postnatal depression is a condition that some new mothers experience. It is a pity that in most cases these women may not be able to go under medical examination and end up being subjected to discrimination, stereotyping and name-calling. That new mother who is accused of being mean or short tempered could be in need of crucial medical attention for depression and not some advice from her aunt or mother on how to be a good wife and mother. With proper access to medical attention, new mothers may receive the proper care they need to deal with depression and this will help them deal with the condition in a much better way. Unfortunately we have a culture of quick judgement and retaliation, something which exacerbates the condition that cure it.
A stronger genetic predisposition for depression
Studies in identical twins — who share the same genes — suggest that heredity may account for about 40% of the risk for major depression. Certain genetic mutations associated with the development of severe depression occur only in women. Strange right? How many times have you heard people describing a ‘generational curse’- where grandmother, mother and daughter all exhibited the same ‘strange’ behaviour? These terms we use refer to the condition as something super-natural that cannot be controlled, yet it is a condition that needs the attention of a qualified psychologist.
Let me go further, a study by Nazroo & Edwards (1998) indicated that possible genetic explanation is x-linkage; meaning the position of the relevant locus on the x chromosome. If the gene for depression is located in the x chromosome and the trait is dominant, women, who have two x chromosomes, will be more often affected than men, who have only one x chromosome. Please note that, this is a hypothesis, the second explanation is that of genetics and environmental influences that together may result in women feeling depressed. An example of this hypothesis would be: If a woman’s parent was depressed, she is more than likely to become depressed herself due to environment and genetic predisposition.
More Involvement in Personal Relationships
In the African community set-up, women often have the widest social circle, so to speak. It is women who are in church groups, business groups, saving clubs, are friends with their children’s teachers, cook at funerals, weddings and have regular jobs and families to take care of. In all this the chances of being frustrated and overwhelmed by one relationship or the other are high. A major European study covering over 30 countries with a combined population of 514 million people recently reported that depression in middle-aged women had doubled in 40 years because of personal relationship pressures. Women between the ages of 25 and 40 were three to four times more likely to become depressed than men. This figure could be higher in Africa where people are more involved with each other’s lives.
Women live longer
Just from looking around in your family and community. You will notice we have more widows than widowers, more grandmothers than grandfathers. This is one of the signs that will show you that women live longer than men. This life expectancy chart at birth from the Population Reference Bureau will show you that in all countries without exception, women live longer. The World Economic Forum reports that women experience higher stress, more chronic disease, more depression, anxiety and are more likely to be victims of violence. They earn less than men for the same amount of work, and in many countries they do not have access to the same human rights as men, despite this they live longer. Now extreme old age is often associated with bereavement, loneliness, poor physical health, and other factors that predispose an individual to depression.
Conclusively, there are many things society can do to lessen the burden of depression on women. Imagine a world without sexual and physical abuse, gender based violence and all other forms of abuse that affect women more. Dealing with these issues can help break the cycle of depression, so yes, let’s talk about it and make the world a happier place.