Women are about twice as likely as men to develop major depression and have higher rates of seasonal affective disorder, depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder, and dysthymia (chronic depression).
More than mere sadness, depression can make someone feel as though work, school, relationships, and other aspects of life have been derailed or indefinitely put on hold. It can sap the joy out of once-pleasurable activities and leave someone feeling continuously burdened. This mood disorder may also cause physical symptoms, such as fatigue, pain, and gastrointestinal problems.
It remains unclear why a gender gap exists in depression. Some experts believe that both genders are affected by depression in equal numbers, but women are more likely to be diagnosed with this disorder, in part because men are less likely to talk about feelings and seek help for mood problems. It also may be that depression shows up in different ways in men — for example, as substance abuse or violent behaviour.
Furthermore, the hormonal changes that accompany menstruation each month can bring on mood changes similar to those that occur in depression. And some women are vulnerable to developing depression after giving birth (prenatal and postpartum depression) or during the long transition to menopause — two other stages in a woman’s life where hormone levels fluctuate wildly.
Researchers have long suspected that the fluctuations in female hormones such as estrogen may underlie women’s greater vulnerability to depression.