Women and men doctors have some divergent views about women and depression, according to a recent survey conducted by the Society for Women's Health Research, a Washington, D.C., based advocacy organization.
Women doctors are more likely than their male counterparts to believe that women are specifically susceptible to depression during two key times of hormonal transition in a woman's life: puberty (67.5 percent to 48.2 percent) and perimonpause (92.8 percent to 67.5 percent). There was no difference in the beliefs of male and female doctors about the risk of depression in the postpartum or post menopause periods.
When asked what the major symptoms of depression are, female doctors were significantly more likely to mention lack of motivation or giving up easily and being unable to concentrate. Trouble sleeping, lack of energy or fatigue, not feeling well, feeling sad, crying, changes in appetite, and a loss of interest in friends, activities or social life were the leading responses for both sexes.
“The beliefs of female and male doctors about women and depression are pretty consistent,” said Jo Parrish, vice president of communications for the Society, “but our survey does reveal a few areas where female doctors may be more in tune with the changes women undergo and the feelings they experience, which is not unexpected.
“The survey findings are a good reminder for all of us, both patients and doctors, to communicate carefully and clearly with one another about health so that we can get the right diagnosis and the right treatment for each patient, regardless of sex. It is easy to fall into the lull of thinking that our doctors have all the information and know everything they need to know, when in fact what we tell them and how well that information is received has a tremendous impact on our health and health care outcomes.”
On the topic of risk factors for postpartum depression, female doctors were considerably more likely to mention difficult or complicated pregnancies or deliveries; lack of support or help with the baby; and difficulty dealing with a newborn, including sickness. In general, female doctors were more likely to attribute a woman's sense of being overwhelmed as a source of postpartum depression.
“Women doctors, many of whom are mothers themselves, are likely more sensitive to the immense burden that new mothers can place on themselves for the health and care of their new baby,” Parrish said. “When things go wrong, women can blame themselves, which can lead to sadness or feelings of guilt and contribute to depression. It is an issue about which women need to talk openly and doctors need to be mindful.”
The survey did find consensus among male and female doctors on several issues. Almost identical percentages of women and men doctors, about 84 percent, agree that women are at higher risk than men of ever having major depression. Strong majorities of women and men doctors also believe it is safe for women to take medication for depression in the postpartum period and under the right circumstances during pregnancy, opinions not as strongly shared by women in the general population.
The survey of 417 male and 83 female doctors was conducted Oct. 11-17, 2007, via the Internet by International Communications Research (ICR) of Media, Pa. The margin of error for the survey of doctors, which included family practitioners, general practitioners and internal medicine specialists, is 4.4 percent. Support for the survey was provided to the Society by Novartis through an educational grant.