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Anyone can develop depression. But depression affects different groups of people in different ways. Every person’s experience with depression is unique.

Depression impacts twice as many women as men. This difference in rates of depression exists regardless of racial/ethnic background or economic status. Nearly 1 in 4 women will experience depression at some point in their lives.

Depression may be more likely to affect a woman at a particular time of her life, such as during pregnancy, after giving birth, during menopause, or even during different phases of her menstrual cycle.

What are the symptoms of depression in women?

Depression in women may also be accompanied by anxiety or eating disorders.

On average, 1 in 7 men will experience depression in their lifetime.

Men may associate the symptoms of depression with weakness, or believe that they should be able to overcome their symptoms on their own. Because of this, men are less likely to talk about depression than women, which leads to more cases of unrecognized or untreated depression. Diagnosing depression in men can also be a challenge because men tend to focus on physical problems like fatigue, physical pain and sleep problems rather than emotional ones. Men are also more likely to describe feeling angry or irritable than feeling sad.

The abuse of alcohol or drugs is one symptom of depression that is more common in men than in women. Men are more likely than women to turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to hide the symptoms of depression.

Although the peak onset of depression symptoms is between the ages of 15-24, depression can hit at any point in the lifespan and, for many, can be a lifelong struggle.

As many as 11% of people in the United States experience depression as an adolescent, and about 3% of adolescents suffer from serious depression. Past-year prevalence rates have been estimated at 7.5% for adolescents.

After puberty, depression occurs twice as often in girls than in boys. Depression is also more likely to develop in children with other emotional disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), behavioral disorders, eating disorders, or anxiety disorders, in children with developmental disorders or mental retardation, and in young people with medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, cancer or other chronic illnesses.

Depression in adolescence can affect development and is associated with alcohol involvement, tobacco use and other drug abuse, problems with peers and parents, and poorer academic performance, all of them being risk variables for suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, and death by suicide.

Unfortunately, young people who suffer from depression are also more likely to experience depression during adulthood, meaning it is important to address symptoms at an early age.

What are the symptoms of depression in young people?

Depression symptoms are different at each developmental stage.

Symptoms in young children may include:

  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Excessive crying

Symptoms in older pre-adolescents and adolescents may include:

  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal
  • Isolation
  • Hopelessness
  • Reduced social interactions
  • Intense sensitivity to rejection
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Changes in appetiteor eating habits
  • Reduced energy
  • Academic decline
  • Conflict with authority
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changes in behavior (e.g. a well-behaved child suddently becomes disruptive)
  • Thoughts of suicide

Young people of all ages may also experience physical symptoms that are not related to other medical conditions, including headaches or stomachaches. These too may be signs of depression.

College students experience rates of depression that are substantially higher than the general population, with nearly a third reporting having had trouble functioning due to feelings of depression.The onset of depressive illnesses tends to peak between the ages of 15 and 24 – just as many students are adjusting to the challenges of college – leaving home for the first time, learning to live independently, forming new relationships, sleeping irregularly, and being confronted with greater access to alcohol and drugs. However, depressive illnesses among college-age students often remain hidden and untreated. Many students may attempt to ignore or hide their symptoms due to social or academic pressures.

As we age, our bodies may slow down, and we may experience more health issues. As a result, older adults are often at greater risk for depression or suicide.

Depression is widespread in the elderly population. As many as 20% of seniors may experience depression. Rates of depression in nursing homes are even higher.

Older adults are more likely to notice physical symptoms of depression (e.g., fatigue and difficulty sleeping). There is also evidence that depression in the elderly is strongly associated with poor cognitive function and decline. Depression can also worsen other disabilities and increase mortality rates, due to both medical illness and suicide.

Diagnosing depression in older people

It can be difficult to arrive at an accurate diagnosis of depression in an older adult. Unfortunately, due to stigma, older adults often ignore their symptoms over long periods of time. Depression among the elderly is also often confused with the symptoms of other problems that appear during the later years. Health care professionals must differentiate between depression’s symptoms and those of other illnesses common in an older population such as dementia, stroke, and other conditions that can impact brain function.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people have increased rates of depression, suicide and self-harm than the general population. According to research, this is largely due to discrimination, prejudice, stress, and abuse.

Below are a few mental health support resources for the LGBTQ community:

Mental health stigma is even stronger within communities of color than the white population. Racism, poverty, negative stereotypes, stigma and prejudice negatively affect the mental health of people of color. For instance, adult African Americans are about 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites.

In addition, the Surgeon General reports that people of color (children and adults) are less likely than whites to receive needed mental health care, especially quality mental health care. This is both due to not having adequate access to mental health services and not seeking treatment or delaying use of the services that may be available. Language barriers and lack of cultural or religious competence also affect mental health service delivery in communities of color.

Overall, people of color face these major issues when it comes to their mental health:

  • Less access to treatment
  • Less likely to receive treatment
  • Poorer quality of care
  • More stigam
  • Discrimination in treatment settings
  • Language barriers
  • Lower rates of health insurance

American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2013. Linthicum, MD: American College Health Association; 2013

Avenevoli, S., Swendsen, J., He, J. P., Burstein, M., & Merikangas, K. R. (2015). Major depression in the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent Supplement: prevalence, correlates, and treatment. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(1), 37-44.

Bostwick, W. B., Boyd, C. J., Hughes, T. L., & McCabe, S. E. (2010). Dimensions of sexual orientation and the prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders in the United States. American journal of public health, 100(3), 468-475.

Bostwick, W. B., Boyd, C. J., Hughes, T. L., West, B. T., & McCabe, S. E. (2014). Discrimination and mental health among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(1), 35-45.

Eisenberg, Daniel; Golberstein, Ezra; and Hunt, Justin B. (2009) "Mental Health and Academic Success in College," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy: Vol. 9 : Iss. 1 (Contributions), Article 40.

Ibrahim, A. K., Kelly, S. J., Adams, C. E., & Glazebrook, C. (2013). A systematic review of studies of depression prevalence in university students. Journal of psychiatric research, 47(3), 391-400.

Kessler, R. C., Petukova, M., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., & Wittchen, H.-U. (2012). Twelve-month and lifetime prevalence and lifetime morbid risk of anxiety and mood disorders in the United States. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 21(3), 169–184.

Martin, Lisa & W Neighbors, Harold & Griffith, Derek. (2013). Martin LA, Neighbors HW, Griffith DM. The experience of symptoms of depression in men vs women: analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. JAMA Psychiatry 70: 1100-1106. JAMA psychiatry (Chicago, Ill.). 70. . 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1985.

McGuire TG, Miranda J. New evidence regarding racial and ethnic disparities in mental health: policy implications. Health Aff (Millwood). 2008;27(2):393–403.

Parks W.S., Lundberg-Love P.K., Luft C., Stewart A., Peddy H. (2016) Understanding Mental Disorders in Women in the Workplace to Mitigate Deleterious Effects. In: Connerley M., Wu J. (eds) Handbook on Well-Being of Working Women. International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life. Springer, Dordrecht.

Rodda J, Walker Z, Carter J. Depression in older adults. BMJ 2011;343:d5219.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Mental Health. (2016). Mental health and African Americans.