Risk for depression similar in men and women

Men and women may share more similarities than previously thought when it comes to the risk factors for major depression, according to a new study by Virginia Commonwealth University researchers.

In the January issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers reported that although there is a wide range of risk factors for depression that can act at different stages of development, the patterns of causes of depression for men and women are fairly similar. Some of these risk factors include childhood sexual abuse, poor parent-child relationships, childhood anxiety disorders, marital problems, low educational attainment and low social support.

“Initially, we thought that the pathway to depression through acting out behaviors such as conduct disorder and drug use and abuse would be significantly more important in men than in women. But we found that there are only very modest differences,” said Kenneth S. Kendler, a professor of psychiatry and human genetics in VCU’s School of Medicine and lead author on the study.

In 2002, Kendler and his team presented a developmental model to assess major depression in women. Using similar methods, they presented an analogous model to assess depression in men. For this study, approximately 3,000 adult male twins from the Virginia Twin Registry were interviewed twice during a two- to –four-year period. Data collected from this population was compared to the results obtained from the 2002 study on women. The Virginia Twin Registry, now part of the VCU Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry (MATR), contains a population-based record of twins from Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

According to Kendler, one difference observed was that childhood parental loss and low self-esteem were more potent variables in men than in women.

This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Kendler collaborated with VCU researchers Charles O. Gardener, Ph.D., and Carol A. Prescott, Ph.D.

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