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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Is depression more common in women? Yes, but...

It is commonly asserted that major depression is more common in women than in men - with (roughly speaking) a 2:1 ratio in the prevalence. However, what is often forgotten is that this sex difference is age-dependent. It does not seem to exist prior to puberty. This raises the question of what happens later in life as people get older. We have recently examined this question using data collected from approximately half a million people in Canadian national surveys conducted over the past two decades. The results confirm this strong age dependency - the sex difference is largest in the youngest age group examined by these surveys (15 - 24 years) and subsequently gets smaller with age. By the elderly end of the age range the difference is gone completely. The abstract from this study is available through this link. Prior researchers have hypothesized the sex difference would disappear around the age of menopause, but this does not appear to be the case. Rather, the biggest difference is in the 15-24 age group and it gets progressively smaller with time. It is important to note that in addition to being more common in women throughout much of the age range, major depression is more common in the younger end of the adult age range. As such, it is not so much that men "catch up" with women as that the prevalence diminishes with age at a more rapid rate in women. It is fascinating to wonder what the reasons might be, and whether these are biological, psychological or social (or all of these) in nature.

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