Psychology in women […] depression in women as a result of emotional, physical, and mental abuse. Psychologically, women are more likely to suffer from depression than men (Editors). Women suffer from depression for a variety of reasons, from post-partum depression after giving birth to any number of emotional and physical reasons, such as abuse and fear of abuse. Women suffer more from depression, and women suffer more from emotional and physical abuse, and so, the two are intertwined when it comes to women’s physical and mental health.
Everyone feels sad or “down” from time to time, for any number of reasons, from losing a job to losing a loved one or simply because life can be too much at times. However, depression is defined as “down” time that lasts too long or interferes with your ability to exist and operate normally in your everyday life. If you find it difficult to get out of the bed in the morning, or cannot find anything in life that seems to matter, then you may be clinically or even seriously depressed. Depression is more common than many people think. Editors for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) note, “Research has shown that in the United States about 19 million people — one in ten adults — experience depression each year, and nearly two-thirds do not get the help they need” (Editors). Thus, depression will probably touch you at some point in life, and since it affects more women than men, there is a good chance it will affect either you or women you know at some point in time.
Psychologically, women face many different issues than males in our society. They are the only members of our society to menstruate, get pregnant, bear children, and breastfeed them, so their experience in many areas is far different from men, and so are many of their psychological issues. Depression, one of the most common ailments in the country, is expensive as well as debilitating. Depressed people miss work more often, are less productive, and it is estimated that work loss from depression costs 43.7 billion dollars every year in the United States (Miller, and Battle 5). Thus, depression is not only a personal problem that can affect the woman and her family, it is a problem for the entire country, and solving it could lead to better productivity, along with a greater sense of well being for many American women. In addition, many women ignore depression and its signs, which can help lead to deeper depression and more difficulties in treating the disease.
It is also interesting to note that psychologically, women generally respond differently to depression. Men tend to look outside themselves for the source of their depression, and attempt to correct or control the causes and so end their depression. Women handle depression differently. Another author notes, “Depressed women, on the other hand, are prone to search within themselves for the source of their unhappiness, brooding and dwelling on their problems” (Ainsworth 28). Thus, the problem festers in many women, becoming larger and more insurmountable the longer it remains. In addition, women manifest depression in different ways, from anxiety and insomnia to substance abuse and eating disorders (Ainsworth 28). Thus, women just view depression differently, and so, they react differently and may be more “open” to depression than men, because women tend to look inside and blame themselves for their problems and difficulty dealing with them.
Depression can come from many different causes. Women may suffer from loneliness if they do not have a family or partner, they may suffer from stress related to job or family, and they may suffer from depression after losing a loved one or close friend. Women who give birth often suffer from post-partum depression, as well, and many public figures, such as Brooke Shields and Tipper Gore have publicly they have suffered from depression in their lives. Mild depression can lead to feelings of inadequacy and helplessness, and life may not seem as interesting as it once did. However, clinical, or severe depression can lead to a host of other problems, from physical reactions to the inability to cope with life in general, and complete everyday activities such as work.
Clinical depression can be very long lasting, but luckily, even the most severe depression can be treated in at least 80% of cases (Editors). While there are many causes of depression in women, some of the most pervasive and difficult to acknowledge and treat are those types of depression that center on emotional, physical, and mental abuse of women by men. This type of depression is more difficult to treat because many women do not acknowledge they are the victims of abuse, whether it is physical or mental. Some are too afraid to come forward, while others will not admit, even to themselves, that they are enduring an abusive relationship. Unfortunately, these types of relationships can lead to long-term depression and even death in some cases.
ABUSE and DEPRESSION
Perhaps one of the most pervasive and difficult reasons for depression in women is tied to abuse, both early abuse and abuse in their partnerships. The NIMH Web site notes, “Studies show that women molested as children are more likely to have clinical depression at some time in their lives than those with no such history. In addition, several studies show a higher incidence of depression among women who have been raped as adolescents or adults” (Editors). A history of early abuse, both physical and mental can led to many problems in adult life, including depression, especially as a response to stress. In addition, many studies indicate that young women who suffer from sexual or other abuse may also suffer from low self-esteem as they grow older, which can also add to depression (Worrell 215). In addition, children, especially young girls, who suffer from sexual or other abuse as children are more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances as adults, which can also lead to depression ((Stewart 102). Knowing these facts can help victims of early abuse cope with and understand their prevalence toward depression, but what of those women who are caught up in abusive relationships as adults?
Physical abuse is probably the most well recognized form of abuse in adulthood, especially between partners. Many women stay in abusive relationships because they are threatened or afraid of their partners, and they have no means of support to leave the relationships and survive on their own. As most would think, physical abuse in a relationship can lead to depression and even suicide in some women. It is interesting to note, however, that many physically abused women also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can also lead to depression. Another writer notes, “Similarly, for victims of partner-to-partner physical violence, the traumatic nature of the violence exposure increases the battered spouse’s susceptibility to PTSD” (Stewart 99). Thus, abuse can lead to a wide range of mental reactions, from withdrawal due to stress, and withdrawal due to depression and feelings of inadequacy. Many women blame themselves for their abuse, even though it is clear this is not the case, and this is another common cause of depression and self-loathing in abuse victims. Author Stewart continues, “Studies that have examined women exposed to spousal violence demonstrate not only high rates of substance abuse among victims, but also high rates of depression, suicidality, and low self-esteem” (Stewart 111). Thus, physical abuse can lead to a variety of negative symptoms besides the actual abuse itself, and it can lead to long-term feelings of inadequacy, depression, and self-hatred, which can make it more difficult to acknowledge and treat the underlying depression. It is interesting to note that depression decreases as time passes after the abuse, and the level of abuse affects depression, as well. Low-level abuse, such as pushing, shoving, or slapping, leads to less depression than high-level abuse, such as hitting, kicking, choking, or burning (Stewart 111).
While physical abuse is one of the most heinous types of abuse in a relationship, just because abuse is not physical does not mean it is damaging or harmful to women in relationships. If many women do not acknowledge physical abuses in their relationships, even more do not acknowledge mental and emotional abuse in their relationships, but this abuse can be just as damaging and harmful to a woman and can certainly lead to depression. There are several patterns in these abusive relationships, and they can be defined as abusive if at least three of the patterns are present in the relationship. The patterns are:
Adjust yourself – where the woman stops arguing or asserting herself with her partner to “keep the peace.” She “adjusts herself” rather than arguing and gaining his contempt or aggression.
Double bind – the situation where no matter what the woman does, she cannot win, because no matter what she does, there is always something wrong or something else wrong.
Direct Verbal Attacks – where the man attacks the woman or her self-worth verbal and abusively.
Silence and Withdrawal – where the man “punishes” the woman for her “behavior” by becoming silent and withdrawn.
Lack of Emotional Connection – where the woman reaches out for support and empathy, and the man withholds it (Chang 73-81).
It is easy to see how these conditions of verbal and mental abuse could lead to feelings of low self-esteem and depression in women. Author Chang quotes a woman stuck in a mentally abusive relationship as saying, “He complained I never communicated with him, but whenever I tried to communicate with him, he would always tell me why I was wrong to think that way. And so it finally reached a point of why bother. You know, I got tired of listening to him criticize me'” (37-year-old nurse) (Chang 73). Studies indicate that abuse in a relationship, no matter what type of abuse, can lead to long-term depression, especially when the abusive relationship is allowed to continue.
It is interesting to note that many of the women interviewed in mentally and verbally abusive relationships did become depressed, but did have the courage to eventually leave the relationships, unlike at least some of the women in physically abusive relationships. The mentally abusive relationships became too much for most women to take, but they were not afraid for their lives or well-being, simply their continued mental health and wellness. Many women in physically abusive relationships are afraid to leave because of threatened violence toward them or their families, and this can lead to even more severe depression and debilitation, as would be expected.
Author Chang notes that after mental and verbal abuse begins, women tend to deny it is happening. Women begin to view themselves as failures in these types of marriages, as author Chang clearly states. She says, “Relationship failures are experienced as their fault and may result in shame, guilt, and depression” (Chang 110). Depression is a common form of reaction to this type of abuse, because women lose their self-esteem and sense of self, and often become withdrawn, overweight, and even develop physical health problems (Chang 112). Thus, mental abuse can be just as harmful to the body as physical abuse, and because so many mentally abused women do not seek treatment for their depression, it may have even longer lasting results on at least some women than physical abuse does.
OTHER FORMS of DEPRESSION
As noted, women often suffer from depression during pregnancy and after childbirth. Author Ainsworth writes, “Postpartum depression is a serious illness that can threaten the lives of both the mother and her newborn. It is not a rare disorder, occurring in almost 15% of women” (Ainsworth 32). During pregnancy, women who are especially tied to their outward appearance may become depressed as they gain weight and undergo other body changes during pregnancy. They may feel less attractive to their partners, and they may find it difficult to cope with some of the changes during pregnancy, although these instances of depression are lower than some others (Editors).
Women undergoing menopause may find themselves more depressed and moody due to fluctuations in hormones and changes in the bodies they have known all their lives. Author Ainsworth continues, “Women commonly report episodes of depression associated with other major hormone changes in their life cycle — i.e., while on birth control pills, following childbirth, and during menopause” (Ainsworth 28). Thus, women’s moods are more tied to their bodies and the changes that they undergo each month and beyond, while men do not suffer from any of these body changes, and are less likely to suffer from depression as they age.
Another often-overlooked segment of women that suffer from depression are elderly women. While elderly women suffer less depression than younger women do overall, they are still prone to depression due to health and caregiving issues. Another author notes, “Because women outlive men, they are more likely to assume the role of caregiver. In fact, two-thirds of all caregivers are women. Caregivers frequently feel unsupported, have health problems, and experience a high rate of depression” (D’Mello 12). Elderly women may face other issues that can lead to depression, such as deteriorating health, financial issues, and loneliness, and they may have little contact with anyone who can help them, or even recognize they need help. What this indicates is that women throughout life can face depression issues, and that women suffer from depression more than men do. They need to understand the signs and symptoms of depression, and not be afraid to stand up and ask for help when they need it.
In conclusion, women suffer from depression more than men do, and women are the only ones to perform many special and essential tasks in our society, from getting pregnant to bearing children. All of these aspects of womanhood can add to depression, and so can physical, emotional, and mental abuse. Women are different, and so they suffer depression differently. For decades, there has been little differential between depression treatment for men and women, but finally, psychologists and researchers are understanding that women have different experiences and outlooks in many areas, and their mental health should be treated differently from men. Depression is an expensive and difficult disease to treat and cure, and the treatment of depressed women should not be ignored or ridiculed. It should be stressed, applauded, and enhanced to help more women who may be afraid to seek treatment for their depression, no matter what the cause or cost.
Ainsworth, Patricia. Understanding Depression. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.
Chang, Valerie Nash. I Just Lost Myself. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1996.
D’Mello, Dale a. “1 Epidemiology of Late-Life Depression.” Depression in Later Life: A Multidisciplinary Psychiatric Approach. Ed. James M. Ellison and Sumer Verma. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2003. 1-26.
Editors. “Depression: What Every Woman Should Know.” National Institute for Mental Health. 2007. 30 Nov. 2007. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-what-every-woman-should-know/summary.shtml
Ellison, James M., and Sumer Verma, eds. Depression in Later Life: A Multidisciplinary Psychiatric Approach. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2003.
Stewart, Sherry H. “Chapter 5 Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Psychiatric Disorders in Victims of Intimate Violence.” The Violence and Addiction Equation: Theoretical and Clinical Issues in Substance Abuse and Relationship Violence. Ed. Christine Werkle and Anne-Marie Wall. New York: Brunner/Routledge, 2002. 98-122.
Worrell, Marcia. “Chapter 12 Working at Being Survivors.” New Feminist Stories of Child Sexual Abuse: Sexual Scripts and Dangerous Dialogues. Ed. Paula Reavey and Sam Warner. London: Routledge, 2003. 210-222.
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