Depression. We have all probably heard, experienced, or read about it. This mental disorder takes on multiple facets and the scientific world recognises multiple diagnoses of different depressive disorders. Depressive disorders include various symptoms and disproportionately affect certain populations: young people, women and the elderly. Yes, you guessed it right, the impacts of depression are gendered and often fall on women and LGBTQ+ people.
Worldwide, approximately 322 million people suffer or have suffered from depression. However, it’s still largely underestimated and we tend to downplay it in our heads. Depression in and of itself presents a major struggle to anyone coping with this illness. As a leading cause of disability worldwide, it is also a public health problem since people affected often suffer from a decrease in productivity or are unable to work. Therefore, treating depression early on is not only essential for the mental health of the person affected but also for societal welfare.
Depressions are gendered because women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depressive disorders. However, before puberty, this difference is non-existent. Then, in early adolescence, girls’ depression levels skyrocket. The reasons and triggers for this difference are not quite clear yet, buta lot of studies suggest genetics, socialisation, higher sensitivity to interpersonal relationships, and hormonal changes might be involved. Since the underlying mechanisms remain unclear or unknown, adequate and specific treatments to tackle women’s depression are currently lacking.
Yet, the gendered difference in depression rates is not only present during puberty. Women are at a higher risk of depression throughout their lives because of hormonal changes, biological factors, inherited traits, and personal life circumstances or experiences. These ‘biological’ aggravating factors include pregnancy and the associated stress, premenstrual problems, postpartum depression, perimenopause and menopause. Life and cultural circumstances also adversely impact women. Think of unequal power and status, women being far more likely to live in poverty, work overload since women often handle both work outside and inside the household, or sexual and physical abuse.
On the flipside, there still exists a gendered stigma surrounding mental health, which prevents many men from seeking help and support when they need it the most and this is literally killing them. In the US, men die by suicide at a 3.54% higher rate than women. In this way, depression or any mental disorder for that matter is seen as a weakness or a lack of personal fortitude. The remains of toxic masculinity are still very much alive with this belief that a ‘tough man’ should deal with his/their own issues and not show any vulnerability.
Finally, it’s important to note that almost all of the data and studies are based on a binary understanding of gender identity. Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals are estimated to experience higher rates of depression than cis-gendered individuals. Their emotional hardship is not reflected in most of the data on mental wellbeing.
It is essential to be aware of the prevalence of depression and to look around to see how our loved ones may be affected. We also must educate ourselves and start a process of de-stigmatisation where seeking help regarding one’s mental health is encouraged instead of shamed. That being said, just remember that whoever you are and wherever you are, your mental health matters. When you feel alone, think you need help, want to hurt yourself or if you want to talk to someone, find a helpline in your country (here) or talk to a primary care provider, be it a friend, a family member, or a health professional.