Depression—Biological and Gender Factors

By Mel Weir. Depression is a growing problem in the world at the moment. Quite why this is, is debatable, but a number of factors have been proposed, including the increasing non-viability of our large population, overwork, overexposure to social media, and general social and political uncertainties.
Interestingly, more women are diagnosed with depression than men. While some think that this may simply be because women—perhaps due to the different ways in which society views women, and the differing gendered expectations placed upon them—are more likely to both recognise and admit vulnerabilities than men, and commit themselves to treatment.

However, others note that there are certain biological factors at work which should not be discounted. There are few if any neurological differences between men and women, but it cannot be denied that women's mental states are susceptible to more hormonal fluctuations than men’s'.

The female reproductive cycle involves hormonal surges which can have a profound (if temporary effect) upon someone's mood and state of mind. Surges and plunges in levels of dopamine and oestrogen can strongly influence states of mind.

Pre-menstrual stress is by no means an uncommon phenomenon, and this can become very serious in certain isolated cases. While this may be a temporary state quite different from chronic, clinical depression, in cases when the hormones are significantly disturbed for medical reasons, the influence upon the brain can be profound.

Pregnancy and childbirth can also induce depression—post-natal depression is associated with hormonal changes following pregnancy. A woman suffering from post-natal depression needs a lot of care and support, both to aid her emotional state and to help looking after her new-born baby.

Similarly, teenage girls who are beginning to develop their hormonal cycles may find themselves unable to cope with the unexpected emotional onslaught, and are subject to a variety of anxieties and depressive disorders.

At the other end of the reproductive scale, fluctuating hormones during the menopause can bring about both euphoria and depression. It is not uncommon for menopausal women to experience depression, partly due to their hormonal situation, and partly because of the unaccustomed changes to their lives which also often occur at around this time.

Men, too, suffer from depression in unprecedented numbers. Unfortunately, they are less likely to seek help than their female counterparts, something of great concern for psychologists.

For more on depression and gender, read this article.