Is Happiness Truly Less Common Among Women?

September 9 2011

 Earlier this week a new study was released that found depressed women outnumber depressed men 2:1. Many of the articles highlighting this study stated that our gender’s depression stems from taking on too much. As an ambitious and goal-driven "millennial" I found this study so disheartening that I did not even want to share it. Yes it’s true women are more likely to be overwhelmed with the nearly exhausted topic of work-life balance, but in working to have it all, aren't women proud of how much they can juggle? Or is it truly that hard to find satisfaction when you have such a full plate? As someone that is only satisfied with near perfection, I have spent the majority of the week wondering if I'm doomed to a depressing future. Then, today, I finally came across the following articles that cast a more hopeful and thoughtful explanation than the initial articles I read. Grateful to have a different explanation of women’s mental health, and a re-found faith in the ability of our gender to have-it-all (including happiness), I wanted to share them with others. 

Huff Post Women: Are Women Really the Sadder Sex by Riddhi Shah on 9/7/11

A new study in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology says that European women are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from depression than men. In pure numbers, this means that of the 30.3 million depressed Europeans, about 23 million are women.

According to the study's author, Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, the number of depressive episodes in women has also doubled in the last 30 years. "In females, you see these incredibly high rates of depressive episodes at times when they sometimes have their babies, where they raise children, where they have to cope with the double responsibility of job and family," he said in a statement.

This isn't the first time that researchers have highlighted the high rate of depressive disorders in women. Statistics say that American women are twice as likely to be depressed as men. A 2010 British study found that 18.7 percent of women over the age of 50 experienced depressive systems. By contrast, only 11.8 percent of men in the same age group experienced similar symptoms.

The question, then, is not whether women are more depressed than men, but why they are. And concurrently, are women really unhappier than they were three decades ago?

According to Professor Wittchen, part of the problem is the "tremendous burden" of trying to do it all -- that curse of the 21st century woman who wants to have a family and a career. Indeed, recent research found that "supermoms" who try to have stellar careers while juggling a full family life -- and expect that they can be good at both -- are at greater risk for depression. Besides, the landmark 2009 paper "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness" documented -- in perplexing detail -- the ways in which today's women are unhappier than their counterparts a generation ago.

But surely women have it better now than they did in the middle of the century, when societal expectation of women ended at the ability bake a flawless pie. Another theory, then, is that women are just better at asking for help. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost four times as many men as women die by suicide. Another survey -- of 30,000 people in 30 countries -- found that women are much more likely to say that they are stressed than men under similar circumstances.

Wittchen also said that depression is most likely to strike women between the ages of 25 and 40, when they are at their most fertile. Also at play, then, are the hormonal changes that women frequently experience during and after pregnancy. In her book “A Deeper Shade of Blue: A Woman’s Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Her Childbearing Years,” Ruta Nonecs describes the challenges faced by women in their childbearing years:

"Not only is a woman exposed to different types of hormones and different levels of these hormones than a man, throughout her reproductive years she experiences constant hormonal fluctuations. … Experts believe that these hormonal shifts may act as a trigger for depression in some women and that women who have premenstrual mood changes may also be more vulnerable to depression at other times when exposed to significant hormonal fluctuations, such as after childbirth or during the transition to menopause.

So which is it? Why are women unhappier, if at all? Do they just have better access to mental health treatments? Is it hormonal? Are we the sadder sex? Or is it a deeper societal malaise that will still take decades to fix? Tell us what you think below. Are Women More Depressed or Just Better at Getting Help? By Sarah Phillips on 9/6/11

New research suggests that European women are two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from depression than men, and twice as depressed as they were in the 70s                        

Women are two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer depression than men. That is one of the main conclusions of a new study by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, published this week.

It should be noted that the figures not only include depression, but also anxiety, insomnia, dementia and Parkinson's disease. According to the research, these illnesses are most likely to strike women between the key reproductive ages of 25-40, when the likelihood of depression can be up to even three or four times more so than men.

Explaining the gender imbalance, Hans Ulrich-Wittchen, one of the authors behind the study, said: "In females, you see these incredibly high rates of depressive episodes at times when they sometimes have their babies, where they raise children, where they have to cope with the double responsibility of job and family." The figures also highlight that women are twice as depressed as in "the 70s and the time before", as Ulrich-Wittchen puts it, which is equally startling.

Women's lives are extremely pressurized now, but are things significantly worse than the 70s or earlier, when being a housewife was the norm? Given the time frame, and the social change that has occurred over the past 40 years, these statistics carry a subtle undertone that women are unable to juggle a successful career with motherhood. Sure it's a challenge, but many women thrive on it. What is genuinely depressing about being a working woman right now is the fact that female executives are unlikely to achieve pay equality until 2109, with a current gender pay gap of £10,546.

Perhaps women are simply better at addressing problem. For better or for worse, another recent study by Platform 51 publicized the fact that one in three women take an antidepressant at some point. Men, it appears, prefer to suffer in silence. In response to today's news, Paul Farmer, chief-executive of Mind said: "Women are under increased pressure today, often juggling a job, childcare and a busy social schedule, without the time to look after their own wellbeing. However, it's important to recognize that depression can happen to anyone and at any point during their lifetime. Men are just as likely to experience depression as women, but are far less likely to seek help, be diagnosed or receive treatment."

Psychotherapist Philippa Perry says that she has always had more female clients, but doesn't think that or the ECN statistics are much of a guide: "Maybe more help is available than there was in the 70s so more people come forward. I hope that appropriate sadness isn't diagnosed as depression, but it might be. Doctors have more medicines available for depression, so whereas before they may have said 'nothing that joining the Mothers Union and a brisk walk won't cure' because they didn't know what else to say – now they can make themselves feel more competent by prescribing serotonin reuptake inhibitors. But even if I did a survey as to why [women were depressed], I'd only get reasons, and reasons are post-rationalizations of feelings. Feelings cannot be measured and put in tidy boxes."

Do you think depression and associated mental illnesses are genuinely more prevalent among women? If so is this because we have less time to think about our wellbeing? Or are men not being honest about their problems, and doctors more inclined to diagnose depression? Share your thoughts below …


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