Betty can’t get to sleep; Tashita can’t wake up. Nothing interests Mei Wu; Carmen cries when she’s home alone; and Lucy is convinced her life’s not worth living. They’re among the millions of women worldwide trying to cope with the symptoms of clinical depression.
Welcome to the blues sisterhood.
Rate Twice That of Males
Over the course of their lifetimes, 20 percent of all women are likely to find themselves in these women’s shoes, note Subahash C. Bhatia, M.D., and Shashi K. Bhatia, M.D. —a husband-and-wife team of professors at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha and University of Nebraska College of Medicine.
Writing in the July 1999 issue of American Family Physician, the Bhatias—both of them experienced psychiatrists—’point out that although the diagnostic criteria for depression is identical for both sexes, females experience the condition twice as often as males. The National Mental Health Association in Alexandria, Va., notes approximately 12 million women in the United States alone experience clinical depression each year.
A Global Disease Burden
Dr. Myrna Weissman of Columbia University’s New York State Psychiatric Institute and her colleagues reported a similar prevalence of depressive illnesses in women in the United States, Canada, Germany and New Zealand. Across the four nations, Weissman’s team identified double the rates of major depression and its milder form—known as dysthymia—in females compared to their male counterparts.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the World Health Organization named depression as the leading cause of “disease burden,” a measure of both illness and death, in women around the globe. But although medical science has taken giant steps forward in understanding the genetic and environmental bases of many common physical and mental ills, Bhatia and Bhatia say the exact reason for the wide gender gap in depression remains unknown.
The quest for an answer has researchers pursuing an interesting and ever-lengthening list of possibilities.