Many of us associate motherhood and depression with the temporary state of postpartum depression that affects some new mothers during their baby's first year of life. But depression can hit mothers at any time, and women are most vulnerable to depression during their childbearing years.
Surprisingly, a groundbreaking study published in late 2005 by Robin Simon, Ph.D., of Florida State University and Ranae Evenson, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, found no gender differences in their study; being a parent is just as likely to increase your risk of depression whether you're a mom or a dad. And because they specifically studied the stress parents were feeling, their findings also negate previous studies that have suggested parenting is more stressful for women.
Nevertheless, mothers continue to be more prone to depression - primarily because of their gender. Numerous studies find that not only are women twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression in the first place, they're most at risk during their childbearing years.
No one knows why women are more vulnerable to depression, or why that vulnerability is highest during childbearing years, but it's likely that stress has a lot to do with it - particularly the stress that comes from raising children.
"I have kids and I derive enormous satisfaction from them," Simon relates. "But I think it's a tough, tough job."
And it's gotten tougher. Today's parents are more likely to be socially isolated without extended families or friends to share the burden. They get less support from their kids because they tend to have fewer children and have them closer together.
Meanwhile, our expectations of our kids and of ourselves as parents have changed, and we're more involved in our children's lives these days.
"Today, if your kids aren't doing so well, you wonder what's wrong with you," Simon notes. All of these stressors could be contributing to the incidence of depression she found in her study.