Risk Factors for Depression

Depression can arise in various phases of life and under many circumstances. Research shows that depression affects women more than men; in fact, depression is the leading cause of disease-related disability in women. Studies show that the lifetime prevalence of a major depressive disorder in women is 21 percent.

In fact, that’s almost twice that in men at 12 percent. National data reveals that sex differences in prevalence first appear around the age of 10 years and persist until midlife, after which they disappear. Therefore, women have the greatest risk for developing depressive disorders after puberty and during their child-bearing years.

Research shows that there are several biological processes that may predispose women to depression. These include genetically determined vulnerability and hormonal fluctuations related to various aspects of reproductive function. For example, the variation in ovarian hormone levels and decreases in estrogen experienced by women have proven to be important factors.

Reproductive events such as infertility, miscarriage, oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy have been reported to cause depression in women as well. Studies also show that birth control pills cause depression. Women have expressed concern about low sex drive, lack of appetite, helplessness, disinterest and an overall sad disposition while “on the pill.

Psychosocial events such as role-stress (or job stress), victimization, sex-specific socialization, internalization, coping style and disadvantaged social status have also been considered as contributors to the increased vulnerability of women to depression.

According to research published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, women tend to display more sensitivity to interpersonal relationships, whereas men display more sensitivity to external career and goal-oriented factors. Women also experience specific forms of depression-related illness, including postpartum depression and postmenopausal depression and anxiety.

Signs of clinical depression are also more common in the elderly, unlike bipolar disease, or manic depression, which usually appears in the late teens and early adult years. The definition of late life depression, according to most researchers, is a major depressive disorder that appears for the first time at the age of 60 or later. Researchers suggest that it’s difficult for healthcare providers to accurately diagnose depression in elderly people because signs of depression, such as tiredness, loss of appetite and sleep disorders, are commonly evaluated as part of a medical illness. Elderly people may also have difficulty expressing their emotions. Or they hide complaints when cognitive problems are encountered because they think of these symptoms as a normal process of aging.

According to research published in Aging and Disease, signs of depression seen in the elderly are related to:

  • the advancing of age
  • being a female
  • living alone
  • being divorced
  • having a low education level
  • having a functionality disorder
  • being physically ill
  • having low-level cognitive dysfunction
  • cigarette and alcohol use
  • loss of life purpose
  • multiple medication use
  • economic problems

Depression can also co-occur with other serious medical illnesses, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. Also, medications taken for these physical illnesses may cause side effects that contribute to depression. Some other risk factors for depression include a family history of depression, stress, major life changes and trauma.


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