Winter depression is more common in women than men

As the winter months approach bringing holidays and good cheer, certain health issues may arise that women should have on their radar. From mental health issues like stress, depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), to physical concerns like skin care, the winter can certainly pack a punch.

Depression peaks during the holiday season, afflicting more than 17 million Americans, according to the National Mental Health Association. On average, women are more vulnerable to stress-related illnesses like depression and anxiety than men. One study, conducted by Pacific Health Laboratories, revealed that 44% of American women report feeling sad through the holidays compared to 34% of American men.

"Depression of any kind is more common in females than males," explains Greg Murray, M.D., lecturer and clinical psychologist at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. "A pattern of elevated depression in the winter months is more marked in women than in men."

There are a host of different reasons why women may be more susceptible to stress during the holidays than men. Women tend to be the primary caretakers of the family and often take on the extra burden of gift buying, entertaining, and coordinating visits with extended family during the holidays. For working women, the added responsibilities can be difficult to balance, especially if they are already balancing a family, job, child-care and elder-care duties.

In addition to clinical depression, SAD or "winter depression," affects women more often than men. SAD is a type of depression that usually occurs in the late fall through early spring. The specific cause remains unknown, but many studies point to a disruption in a person's internal clock due to reduced levels of sunlight. Symptoms of SAD include: depressed mood, lethargy, apathy, changes in sleep or appetite, social withdrawal and difficulty concentrating.

According to information from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, women are diagnosed more frequently than men yet men tend to have more severe symptoms.

Treatment for SAD is similar to regular depression and can include psychotherapy, medication, and other therapies. Light therapy has been proven effective and involves sitting a few feet away from a specialized light box. The light is supposed to imitate outdoor light and some studies have shown that it actually sparks a change in the brain chemicals that regulate a person's mood.

The winter months can also wreak havoc on a person's skin. With the outside cold air and dry indoor heat, many people complain of dry, cracked and flaking skin. Remember these few tips to prevent dry skin during the winter:

•Hydrate: some women forget to drink the recommended 8 glasses of water a day because the temperature has dropped, but hydration is just as important in the winter and will help keep the much needed moisture in your skin.

•Exfoliate: some skin care experts recommend removing the dead skin cells to keep the skin smoother and less dry.

•Moisturize: using a moisturizer during the winter months can help your skin stay soft and less itchy. For people with sensitive skin, hypo-allergenic products are recommended.

•Don't forget the sunscreen: even though it's wintertime, sun protection is just as important, especially on the face and hands.


The Society for Women's Health Research


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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