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NWHRC Survey on Women and Depression

Results of a nationwide online survey of more than 1,000 women conducted by the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC) in August 2003 found that there are still misperceptions surrounding depression that prevent women from acknowledging their depression and seeking proper treatment, regardless of their age.  The survey also shows that even though an overwhelming majority of women have been depressed or have known someone who has depression, nearly half of respondents will not discuss this with their healthcare provider because they perceive depression as a weakness or personality flaw that does not require medical attention. 

According to a study published the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 6/18/03),  the majority of depressed individuals are not adequately treated.  Studies have also shown that depression in women is misdiagnosed approximately 30 to 50% of the time.  The NWHRC survey results suggest that this could be attributed to women's preference to turn to friends or family members rather than a medical practitioner, thus prolonging the proper diagnosis and initiation of treatment for their illness.

Women have different perceptions of depression depending on their life stage, according to the survey.  The majority (75%) agree that life changes, such as moving, marriage, birth, divorce and growing older, are among the main precipitators of depression at every age.  Interestingly, women in their 20's, 30's and 40's also think that their own peer group is at greatest risk for depression.

The 18-29 year-olds recognize that they are at risk for depression despite their young age, yet they report not seeking professional help due to the negative stigma associated with this condition.  In fact, only 9% of younger women are willing to begin a discussion about depression with their doctor.  In contrast, women in their 40s, who may be more confident with their life experience and less affected by social pressures, report being the most comfortable talking to their doctors about depression

Women in the 30-39 year old age group, the largest group in the child-rearing years, recognize the high risk associated with this time, since they may be undergoing one of the major physical, psychological, and social stresses in their life.  Childbirth is gaining recognition as a major risk factor in the development of depression, yet almost a quarter of the women in the 30-39 year old age group point specifically to financial concerns as the greatest impact on their lives.  

Women in the 40-49 year old age group also appear to be well educated about depression and recognize the importance of mental health, with more than 50% noting that the condition is best treated with prescription medication.  In comparison, the 18-29 year old age group's perception of depression as a serious medical condition varied drastically, with nearly three-quarters responding that depression is best managed with treatments other than prescription medication. 

Ironically, while 95% of the women surveyed recognize that depression is a treatable condition, the survey confirms that stigma continues to erode women's confidence and prevents them from seeking medical attention.  Reversing negative perceptions about depression will help women, at every age, feel more comfortable initiating a dialogue with their physicians, which is a critical step towards getting effective treatment.

For more information about depression or other mental health issues, click here.

Created: 11/21/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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