Women’s depression rates: how can we prevent them rising further?

A relatively well-considered article in the Daily Mail last week drew attention again to the rise in the number of women who are being treated in this country for depression, and who are as a result of this diagnosis are being prescribed anti-depressants. As usual in the Daily Mail, it is important to read beyond the sensationalist title, which accuses (on this occasion) drugs companies of cynicism in encouraging prescriptions of their own products; equally, it is important to gloss over the usual embedded criticisms of women – especially working women – which surface briefly. And do – as ever – steer clear of the comment streams which follow the article, which contain polarised, ancient views of women which can border on the ludicrous.

This aside, the main drive of the article is that we do not really know why women suffer from depression more than men, although we have a fair inkling that it lies in the speed at which social change has occurred over the past few decades, and the impact that this has had emotionally and physically on women’s lives. This change, of course, is to be welcomed: with every decade we move closer to a situation where gender inequality is no longer a reality, and where women and men are able to be more authentically themselves. It stands to reason that when we reach such a harmonious state – and I am under no illusion that this will be hard to attain – then we will end up with a happier, healthier, more balanced society.

What we must not forget, though, is the period of time between now and then. Change is hard; transition causes stress, and the psychological hardships experienced by women and men in relation to their shifting gender roles should not be underestimated. Drugs, as part of an arsenal of approaches to help ease this transition, can of course be of benefit. The point of the article, though, is that we should be more robust; more appropriate than drugs, perhaps, are personal counselling and guidance to help women deal with these enormous changes.

This makes perfect sense. We should be supporting all our women, young and old, to make the most of themselves, and we should not be afraid to stand up and argue for this kind of help. Muddling through will get us only so far; the more resources we can devote to enabling women to develop strength and resilience, the better. Girls’ schools make a phenomenal starting point; the medical profession should catch up.

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