Stress, Gender and Depression
In my last Sharepost I asked the question Does Stress Cause Depression? One of the conclusions reached was that while many people experience stress, it is not inevitable they will go on to suffer with depression. Therefore, we assume that some people have a particular vulnerability.
When we look at the figures for depression it appears that women are far more vulnerable. There is something of a dispute as to whether men reveal their depression in different ways, but this aside it is interesting to see just how much focus has been given to stress exposure in women, and how this may predispose them to the onset of depression.
Various researchers have concluded that women's lives are generally more stressful. Reasons for this vary but include the fact that their career opportunities are more limited and they often occupy lower status jobs. Women are argued to have less power in the control of their own destinies, are often poorer and receive less acclaim and reward in their lives when compared with many men. There is some support for the claim that duel roles, such as worker and parent, are more emotionally demanding. In one large study it was found that single women were less likely to be depressed than married women who were also employed.
Additional sources of stress come from life events. It has been suggested that women are exposed to higher levels of stress in this regard. Women tend to report stressful life events more frequently than men especially with regard to interpersonal, marital, financial and illness problems, and family crises. It is suggested that women are far more immersed in family and social networks than are men and this may account for the relative intensity of stress felt.
The chronic nature of certain circumstances is an additional source of stress that can easily tip over to depression. For example, women are much more likely to be the primary caregiver for relatives with a chronic illness. Single mothers also fall into this category where little or no support is available for them and where poverty is an additional factor. Janice Kiecolt-Glazer, a professor of psychology and psychiatry, estimates the chronic stress that spouses and children develop while caring for Alzheimer's disease patients may shorten the caregivers' lives by as much as four to eight years.
Sexual victimization, through childhood molestation and/or adult sexual assault, is much higher in women than in men. Such traumatic experiences are strongly associated with subsequent depression. This example brings us back to the issue of vulnerability and it needs to be stressed that sexual assault does not, of itself, necessarily lead to depression. The link between stress and depression is not straight forward. Whether stress leads to depression will depend, for example, on the person's coping skills and personal resources, their interpretation of the meaning of stressor and their genetic background and predisposition to anxiety.
The ability to cope with stress has also been suggested as an area of difference between women and men. The argument goes that women may have fewer coping resources when compared with men. The basis for the claim rests on observations that when women experience emotional distress they tend to ruminate more, become over-analytical and self-focused. Men use more distraction and tend to use more problem-solving skills.