Therapy

Depression & Women

 

Women are more depressed than ever and what can be done about it?
 
Nov 2009 –
In her September 19th column, “Blue Is the New Black,” Washington Post columnist Maureen Dowd related the fact that, according to the General Social Survey, which tracks the general mood of Americans, and five other major studies around the world, women are getting gloomier while men are becoming cheerier.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Not only do women have to deal with the “glass ceiling,” lower earning power and all the rest, but now there’s a rose-colored ceiling as well. The column goes on to deconstruct the possible reasons for women’s increasing unhappiness, arriving at the general consensus that because women have so many more opportunities than in the past but are still expected to bear children and take care of the household, we’re basically the female twenty-first century equivalent of the 1980s Japanese businessman dropping from karoshi (a word meaning “death by overwork”): overtaxed and miserable.

 

Women are more depressed than ever and what can be done about it?

By Eva Ritvo, M.D.

Nov 2 2009 – 6:26pm – In her September 19th column, “Blue Is the New Black,” Washington Post columnist Maureen Dowd related the fact that, according to the General Social Survey, which tracks the general mood of Americans, and five other major studies around the world, women are getting gloomier while men are becoming cheerier.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Not only do women have to deal with the “glass ceiling,” lower earning power and all the rest, but now there’s a rose-colored ceiling as well. The column goes on to deconstruct the possible reasons for women’s increasing unhappiness, arriving at the general consensus that because women have so many more opportunities than in the past but are still expected to bear children and take care of the household, we’re basically the female twenty-first century equivalent of the 1980s Japanese businessman dropping from karoshi (a word meaning “death by overwork”): overtaxed and miserable.

Far be it for me to question the veracity of the various studies that found women’s happiness > declining, but I’m certainly ready to take issue with the reasons. First of all, there’s no such thing as a definitive answer to this question. The issue of human happiness is dauntingly complex and all but impossible to unwind to a single reductive “cause.” But when I look at all the possible causes cited by the likes of bestselling author Marcus Buckingham, one thing stands out: women are either redefining themselves under pressure or allowing ourselves to be redefined.

Self-definition is a bulwark of self-esteem When our definition of who we are is in tune with our desire for who we wish to be, self-esteem tends to be strong. When there is tension between what we are and what we aspire to, then self-esteem can suffer and depression can follow.

Just as the problem is a complex one, any single prescription for happiness is likely to be only a small part of the whole solution. But since every journey begins with a single step, I suggest that women might begin to regain their happiness by retaking control of what defines us. If we allow ourselves to be defined by outside expectations of our careers, childbearing, physical attractiveness and other factors, then we cede control of our contentment to others. If we fail to measure up to some vague standard of “having it all,” then we’re unhappy. But perhaps it’s not necessary to have it all-or even possible. Perhaps all any woman needs is what makes her feel beautiful and alive, no matter what anyone else thinks. If we are defining our own happiness, it’s much more difficult for circumstances to rob us of it.

This is not an easy transition. As Dowd writes, women are much harder on themselves than men and beat themselves up more when they fail. We tend to care deeply what others think of us. But we can still be empathic without letting that empathy determine our happiness. Perhaps making the transition from “having it all” to “having just enough” is where women need to start.

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