Research shows that during adolescence girls are more likely to experience depression than are boys (this difference between males and females is also reflected in the adult population). Why should this disparity between the genders exist?


According to Daniel Freeman (a psychiatrist at the University of London) and Jason Freeman (his brother), authors of the fascinating book. The Stressed Sex’, one reason why females report feelings of depression more frequently than males is that they are more prone to internalizing their problems whereas men have a greater propensity to externalize theirs.

Internalization of psychological difficulties manifests itself in ways that include insomnia, anxiety, self-harm and, of course, depression whereas externalization can result in behaviours such as physical aggression, drug abuse and alcoholism.



Furthermore, Freeman and Freeman suggest that females are more likely to suffer from depression because, on average, they are more susceptible to low self-esteem than males (e.g. Kearney-Cooke, 1999; Bleidorn et al. 2016) which is likely to make them more prone to not only depression but other mental disorders too. (Other researchers, however, have argued that the idea that women have lower self-esteem than men is not applicable to modern, 21st-century females; for instance, one study involving over 100,000 participants found that although girls had greater anxiety in relation to their physical appearance than boys, their self-esteem was equal to that of boys in relation to their academic abilities and also in relation to their ethical standards of behaviour.


It has also been suggested that females report feelings of depression more than males do because they (females) are more inclined to talk about how they feel compared to males (who feel inhibited about talking about how they feel because a greater stigma attaches itself to male disclosure of such matters and perhaps, too, because they are more likely to fear being regarded as ‘weak’ and ‘unmanly’).


According to the ‘stigma’ argument, then, ACTUAL RATES of depression amongst males are not necessarily lower than amongst females but only appear to be as they are less likely to report their feelings of depression than females.

Indeed, this theory is borne out by the fact that ‘successful’ suicide rates amongst males are DOUBLE the rates amongst females (even though females are twice as likely to ATTEMPT suicide which suggests females might be less likely to intend to kill themselves when exhibiting suicidal behaviour because, more frequently than amongst males, the primary motivation behind such behaviour may be to communicate emotional pain – the classic ‘cry for help.’ (N.B.It should never be assumed a suicide threat, made by a male or female of any age, isn’t genuine and is  ‘just a cry for help.’ A very substantial number of individuals who threaten suicide go on to commit it ‘successfully.’)


After puberty (when, many studies have found, that differences in rates of depression between boys and girls start to become marked) the sex hormones in males and females undergo dramatic changes (males produce large quantities of testosterone whereas, in contrast, females produce large quantities of oestrogen). These hormones affect the brain and may, therefore, at least in part, help to explain the disparity in depression rates reported by female and male adolescents and adults.


For the majority of females problems related to PMS are fairly minor. However, some may suffer much more serious symptoms which impair day-to-day functioning to a significant degree at which point it may be diagnosed as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and its symptoms include depression, extreme irritability and anxiety (approximately 7-14 days prior to the commencement of the individual’s period). Whilst the precise nature of the mechanism underlying the link between depression and PMS / PMDD is not entirely certain, it has been theorized that a primary explanation, as alluded to above, could be that certain hormones, including oestrogen and progesterone, may adversely interact with serotonin (a neurotransmitter thought to be involved in the experience of depression) in the brain.


 Bleidorn, W., et al. 2016 Age and Gender Differences in Self-Esteem—A Cross-Cultural Window. University of California, Davis and Tilburg University

Kearney-Cooke A. Gender differences and self-esteem. J Gend Specif Med. 1999;2(3):46-52.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).