Women and Depression
by Dr. Tina Rochford
Family Matters, Vernon Morning Star

Women's depression can be seen as rooted in what has become known as the "traditional core." The traditional core is a woman's cultural conscience, or a core of values and thinking that evolves from parental and societal messages about how women should behave. For example, the traditional core typically instructs women to take care of themselves only after taking care of all others, to consider the work of men to be more important than that of women, to always be thin, to never grow old, etc.

It is important to remember that while the traditional core can have a strong negative side, it also can be a real source of strength. For example, the traditional core reminds us of the value of home, family and community. It helps women to slow down from the pace of an increasingly frenetic world to focus on what's really meaningful, such as family celebrations, playing with our children, etc. The traditional core also thrives on a strong sense of connection to other people; these relationships enrich our lives and make us healthier people.

The traditional core survived for centuries because it was convenient for both men and women. However, by the 1960's the traditional core began to unravel, as society changed. Betty Friedan's book, "The Feminine Mystique" struck a chord with women who had been struggling to identify the "problem that had no name." Traditional feminine roles were leaving many women feeling emotionally bankrupt and bored. Women began entering the workforce in unprecedented numbers either due to economic necessity or choice, or both. The divorce rate escalated and many women found themselves single parenting. While women may feel enthusiastic about taking a stand and violating the traditional core, most of us also feel uneasy and anxious.

The traditional core is a fertile ground for depression as women struggle with the values of the traditional core and the realities of modern life. It is not surprising that women experience feelings of anger, resentment, low self-esteem and depression as we struggle to find the "right" answer during a time of such cultural collision. Most of us compromise in ways we wish we didn't have to, no matter what we do.

Numerous depressions can spring from the traditional core. These depressions, while a source of pain, can also be seen as an opportunity for learning. They constitute a kind of red flag that change is necessary if we are to enjoy optimal mental health.

These depressions can be categorized as follows:

  1. Victimization Depression results from the traditional emphasis on being too accommodating and when confronted with conflict, being unable to respond with appropriate assertiveness. Women may tend to respond either too passively and quietly or conversely, too aggressively, (this response may be rooted in a history of unexpressed anger). Both responses invite further victimization.

  2. Relationship Depression happens when our desire to handle all relationships perfectly, due to our socialization as relationship experts, collides with the real world where nothing is perfect. An over-investment in relationships can make us depressed when the desired closeness (with partners, children, friends, relatives, etc.) is not realized.

  3. Age Depression hits home as we grow older in a society that places an extraordinary value on youthfulness. Older women are perceived by themselves and this society as losing some of their value.

  4. Depletion Depression is becoming increasingly common as women attempt to "do it all" and strive to be all things to all people, and perhaps pursuing a career as well. The proverbial "superwoman" is vulnerable to exhaustion. Fatigue has been found to be the health issue of most concern for women.

  5. Body Image Depression happens when we try to impose impossible standards of physical perfection on our only human bodies. Indeed, many of the images we see in the media are not real people at all; they are concoctions of computer enhanced imagery which assembles a collage of body parts and presents a picture of a person which does not exist in real life.

It is important to discover and understand both the negative and positive qualities of this powerful traditional core. Such understanding of our cultural heritage and present cultural experience can make us more aware. We can develop healthy coping strategies and make better decisions when we reach critical choice points during our lives (eg. concerning romantic relationships, children, work, schooling). Depression can imprison female creativity, but it can also serve as a catalyst for change.

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