Gender Differences in Depression and Coping Style

Depression is a disabling mental illness. Symptoms include prolonged sadness, hopelessness, impaired memory and concentration, low motivation and energy and suicidal thoughts. Factors separating clinical from subclinical depression are the number of symptoms and their severity. One can also experience a ‘blue period’ of self-limiting mild depressive symptoms with little dysfunction following significant life events. This article focuses on how the gender of the person has an effect on depression and how the coping styles for depression vary based on their gender.

Across many nations, cultures and ethnicities, women are about twice as likely as men to develop depression. Although anyone can suffer from depression, by the age of 13 female depression rates begin to rise to the extent that, throughout adulthood, women have double the chance of being depressed than men. Psychologists have related this to women’s greater propensity to experience stress and differing reactions to stress between genders. Higher levels of depressed mood in women are also linked with higher levels of chronic stress.

Some of the factors that might be affecting women to lead to depression are:

  • Women have less power and status than men in most societies. Consequently, they experience certain traumas, particularly sexual abuse, more often than men.
  • Women experience more chronic strains, such as poverty, harassment, lack of respect, and constrained choices.

These factors may lead to women feeling helpless to take control of their lives and may lead to stress and eventually depression.

Coping style is the reaction to life stressors employed to manage emotional distress. As stressors become overwhelming, the most frequently utilized coping styles are avoidant and emotion-focused. Avoidant coping involves downplaying, denying or avoiding directly addressing the stressor(s) while emotion-focused coping encompasses efforts to manage emotions by doing things such as crying or seeking help. It has been determined that females are more likely than males to employ avoidant and emotion-focused coping strategies and young women may be more likely to be depressed due to their tendencies to employ avoidant coping mechanisms. Increased stress in women stimulates emotion-focused and/or avoidant coping which triggers depressive symptoms.  An example of emotion-focused coping is when the woman has been getting emotional support from others. An example of avoidant coping when she refuses to believe that something has happened.

The lifetime prevalence of clinical depression in women is 21.3% and 12.7% in men. Women’s greater chronic stress leads them to prefer emotion-focused and avoidant coping styles, which eventually trigger depression.

It has been found that independent of gender, the avoidant coping style has a strong, positive correlation with depression. It is larger than the non-existent correlation between emotion-focused coping and depression. Therefore, any kind of support – family, social, institutional etc. can help to reduce stress, thereby lessening the likelihood of, and increasing capabilities in overcoming depressive symptoms.  Avoidant coping would thus lead to despair whereas emotion-focused coping would give hope.

An effective strategy in decreasing depression rates would be to identify those at risk and develop proactive coping styles, especially for women.

References

  • Holahan, C.J., Moos, R.H., Holahan, C.K., Brennan, P.L., & Schutte, K.K. (2005). Stress Generation, Avoidance Coping, and Depressive Symptoms: A 10-Year Model. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73(4), 658-666. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X
  • Howerton, A., & Van Gundy, K. (2009). Sex Differences in Coping Styles and Implications for Depressed Mood. International Journal of Stress Management, 16(4), 333-350. doi: 10.1037/a0016843
  • Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2001). Gender Differences in Depression. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 10(5), 173-176.
Kriti Sharma has a Bachelors degree in Biomedical Science. At present she is pursuing a Postgraduate Diploma in psychology. She is aiming to work as a clinical psychologist.