Severe depression disorders are twice as likely to occur in
women than men. But research shows hormone differences and
emotional expression are not the primary causes for high diagnosis
rates in women, said Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, director of the
Institute for Research on Women and Gender.
This issue was addressed during a presentation at Lane Hall
yesterday where Nolen-Hoeksema highlighted studies and literature
explaining the biological and psychological factors that contribute
to female depression.
“The notion that women’s moods are controlled
completely by hormones has not been supported by the past 25 years
of research. The research is showing over and over that there are
several reasons for depression,” she said.
Nolen-Hoeksema cited social networks, sexual and physical abuse,
poverty and relationship inequities as factors that have more of a
negative impact on women than men and consequently contribute to a
higher rate of mental sickness.
Categorizing these factors into three groups — biological,
psychological or stress factors — she said that not only do
these factors contribute to depression, but they also contribute to
each other, creating a cycles in which one problem can spark
another. This type of cycle, or “feedback loop,” can
trap women in a state of depression.
“The sad news is that each of these factors reacts with
the others creating feedback loops. The good news is that it looks
like you can intervene at a number of levels,” Nolen-Hoeksema
said, adding that although negative factors antagonize one another,
positive factors work in the same way, having the ability to
influence the overall mood of a depression victim.
Nolen-Hoeksema said although women are more likely to experience
rumination — passively and repetitively focusing on negative
feeling — statistical modeling has been done to show this is
only one part of depression.
“The academic and clinical world has known for years that
women are more treated than men and treat it as phenomenon. Lay
people write it off as women seek more help and are more willing to
admit it,” Nolen-Hoeksema said.
She said two-thirds of students who possess symptoms of
depression and would benefit from mental health services
don’t seek help, the majority of this population being
“A very large population of University students is
depressed. The University of Michigan is very lucky to have a
nationally recognized depression service. Services are very
available to students to learn about working on their
(problems),” Nolen-Hoeksema added.
She said she is working to create better services for depressed
women. “Plans specifically for college women are so much in
the early stages that I can’t really say anything
specific…but a group of us is working on it. I certainly hope in
the future we will have more,” Nolen-Hoeksema said.
Social Work student Brook Badin said she was aware of
Nolen-Hoeksema’s research and came to the lecture because she
wanted to hear an expert speak.
“I am interested in depression. (Nolen-Hoeksema) is really
well-known. She’s an expert and that’s why I’m
here,” Badin said.
Nursing freshman Kristen Woytowicz said she developed an
interest in depression in her women’s studies class and came
to the lecture to learn about research being done.
“Being in women’s studies, we talk about women and
gender difference so that forced me to think about it. Probably
statistically girls might be more vocal (about depression) and have
more hormone influence,” she added.
Kathy Klykylo, senior staff assistant in the Department of
Psychiatry, said she thinks it is important that people become
informed on gender differences regarding depression and factors
contributing to depression in women.
“(Nolen-Heksema) has clearly looked at a lot of subjects
and done these studies looking at a lot of data about women and
depression. It looks at depression as the very complicated thing it
is. I think people need to know that it’s not just hormonal,
that social roles — and other factors play just as an
important part and that it’s an interaction —
it’s not just one thing,” Klykylo said.
The lecture also reached out to people outside the University.
Karen Weldon, from Detroit, read about the event in the Detroit
Free Press and brought a friend whom said she had a problem with
depression and anxiety and wanted to learn about different ways of
The presentation was the last of the Lane Hall Conversations
series for this year. The series of talks brings speakers from
different disciplines to discuss research on gender and women,
presentation coordinator Ilisha Felty said. “The purpose (of
the talks) is basically to highlight the research that goes on at
the institute. We have a finite number of researchers, so we line
up researchers within women and gender,” Felty added.