Since women live up to thirty-seven years longer than men during horrific conditions caused by famines, epidemics and slavery, a study found, they are often referred to as the stronger sex. Yet, as we all get the winter blues thanks to short days, freezing weather and the arrival of the post-Christmas credit card bill, women suffer far more than men, research has found – and there may be biological reasons for it.
A study of more than 150,000 people discovered that at this time of year women have more depressive symptoms, are more tired and take less pleasure in the things they normally enjoy. In contrast, men’s moods remain more stable. The study by Glasgow University is based on mood questionnaires filled out in different months by people aged 37-73.
Experts believe we feel sadder in autumn and winter because the shorter days disrupt our sleep-wake rhythms which affect mood. But the authors say women’s brains may be more sensitive to the changes of the seasons and more vulnerable to the cold and the darker evenings.
It is known that they produce more of the stress hormone cortisol and have a greater inflammatory response to environmental stress than men which is more likely to cause depression.
Daniel Smith, professor of psychiatry at the university, said: ‘We know stress has a different effect psychologically on women than it does on men. It is a distinct possibility that they might be more susceptible to shorter days and colder temperatures during the winter. We found a small but significant difference in the way women’s moods fluctuate through the seasons compared to men.’
Just three per cent of the population have seasonal affective disorder or ‘SAD’ – a type of depression whose effects are more severe during the winter. But many feel unhappy or flat, with prescriptions for anti-depressants soaring at this time of year along with the number of women admitted to hospital with depression. The study published in the journal of affective disorders used data from the UK Biobank health study which asked people to describe their mood in the previous fortnight. It showed that women’s depression peaks with the seasons but men’s do not.
Professor Smith said: ‘Seasonal variations in depressive symptoms appear to be more pronounced in women.’ He went on to say that social and lifestyle factors made no difference, suggesting a sex-specific biological mechanism.
I have always believed that women, despite what these studies show, are nevertheless the stronger and more determined sex. Having interviewed so many of them I am convinced I am right. Appearances might deceive, but reality is another matter.