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Gender Matters: Women & Depression

by Amy Fowkes, Psy.D.

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:17-18

Women fulfill important leadership and service roles in the Church, and their unique mental health needs merit further examination. One of particular concern is depression, which has been called the most significant mental health risk for women.1 Women are more vulnerable to depression than men, and are often at risk for misdiagnosis. Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in women and offer appropriate support can help us be more effective in our ministry.

Reflection Questions

  • How might depression lead to feelings of disconnection from God and the Church community?
  • Do you notice symptoms of depression in women in your community or in your ministry? How can you support them?

How does gender impact depression?

  • Women are approximately two times more likely than men to suffer from major depression and dysthymia.2
  • Depression in women is misdiagnosed approximately 30 to 50 percent of the time.4
  • Approximately 70 percent of the prescriptions for antidepressants are given to women, often with improper diagnosis and monitoring.4
  • Women who are especially vulnerable to depression include those who have experienced physical and sexual abuse, live in poverty, work in lower status employment positions, or are mothers of young children.5

What are the potential causes for the increased risk of depression among women?6

  • Biological
  • Genetic
  • Hormonal
  • Environmental
  • Chemical
  • Psychological
  • Social

What are the symptoms of depression?

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Restlessness, irritability or excessive crying
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness or pessimism
  • Sleeping too much or too little, or early morning awakening
  • Decreased appetite and/or weight loss
  • Overeating and weight gain
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Thoughts of death or suicide attempts
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain

Where can you go for assistance?

  • Clergy or pastoral services
  • Community mental health centers
  • Peer support groups
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Medical professionals
  • Psychologists

Additional Resources

To learn practical strategies for understanding and addressing depression in women, see the following:

  1. Women and Depression: Discovering Hope www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/women-and-depression-discovering-hope/index.shtml 
  2. Depression Health Center www.webmd.com/depression
  3. Depression in Women: Understanding the Gender Gap www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/MH00035
  4. NAMI Women and Depression www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=women_and_depression

Sources Cited

1Glied, S., & Kofman, S. (1995, March). Women and mental health: Issues for health reform background paper. New York: The Commonwealth Fund, Commission on Women’s Health.
2Enns, C. (2004). Feminist Theories and Feminist Psychotherapies: Origins Themes and Diversity (2nd ed.). New York: Haworth Press.
3Research agenda for psychosocial and behavioral factors in women’s health. (1996, February). Washington, DC: Women’s Programs Office, American Psychological Association.
4McGrath, E., Keita, G. P., Stickland, B. R., & Russo, N. F. (1990). Women and depression: Risk factors and treatment issues. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
5WebMD Medical Reference. Depression in women. Retrieved from www.m.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-women
6National Institute of Mental Health. Women and depression: Discovering hope. Retrieved from www.nimh.nih.gov/women-and-depression-discovering-hope/complete-index.sht.