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Special Populations

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a serious mental health condition that can affect people from all walks of life. However, the impact of MDD can vary among different groups of people. Understanding how MDD can affect various populations is crucial for making sure they get the right support and care.1

Groups that may experience MDD differently include:1

  • Men
  • Women
  • Pregnant women
  • Children
  • Veterans
  • Older adults
  • BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color)
  • LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual) people

Learning more about how MDD affects these groups can help us understand the unique problems they face and what kind of help they need.

Men

About 1 in 9 men are diagnosed with MDD. But men can be affected by MDD in ways that are distinct from women. They might have other symptoms or express their feelings differently.2

Studies show that men with depression might not ask for help as much as women. This could be because society expects men not to talk about their feelings or seek help for their mental health. As a result, men might show more external signs of depression, such as increased anger, irritability, or substance use. This can sometimes make diagnosing depression in men more challenging.2,3

Men with MDD might also have fatigue, sleep disturbances, and gut problems. Men are also at a much higher risk of depression-related suicide than women are.2

Women

MDD is more common in women. In fact, women are about twice as likely to have depression than men. Changes in women's hormones during periods, pregnancy, and menopause can make them more prone to depression. Women might report sleeping too much, overeating, and feeling heavy in their bodies. These symptoms might not look like depression right away.4

On top of this, social and cultural pressures can affect women with MDD in a unique way. The pressure to juggle work, family, and other obligations can add stress and lead to depression.4

Pregnant people

About 7 percent of pregnant people might face depression. This can be due to both hormonal changes during pregnancy and the stress that comes with it.5

MDD during pregnancy can affect not only the mother but also the baby. It might lead to issues like preterm birth or low birth weight. Also, some pregnant people might stop taking their antidepressants for fear of harming the baby, which can make depression worse.5,6

After giving birth, about 15 percent of women experience depression. This is called postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is more serious than the "baby blues," which gets better on its own. PPD brings intense feelings of sadness, emptiness, and anxiety. These feelings can start soon after having the baby or even a few months later.7

Children

MDD is on the rise in children. Depression in kids can show up in different ways. They might seem more irritable, have trouble sleeping, or lose interest in things they used to enjoy. Their schoolwork might suffer, and they may feel sad or empty inside. Sometimes, kids with MDD report physical complaints like stomachaches or headaches. This can lead to poor attendance in school, compounding learning problems.8

Veterans

Studies have shown that veterans are more likely to face depression than people who have not served in the military. About 15 percent of veterans experience depression. This number is likely much higher for those who were in combat.9

Older adults

For older adults, depression can bring changes in their cognition, behavior, and feelings. They might seem less interested in activities they used to enjoy, have trouble sleeping, or feel tired a lot. Physical problems like pain might also be linked to depression.10

Sometimes, older adults with MDD might not talk about their feelings or symptoms. They might dismiss them as part of getting older. But depression is not a normal part of aging.10

BIPOC

BIPOC populations are more likely to have MDD due to the many societal challenges they face. Discrimination, inequality, and other stressors contribute to higher rates of depression in BIPOC people. These challenges also affect their access to healthcare and resources. Adults in BIPOC communities are often less likely to receive mental health treatment compared to white adults.11

LGBTQ+ people

The LGBTQ+ community has higher rates of depression compared to other communities. In 2022, nearly 14 percent LGBTQ+ youth had attempted suicide in the previous year. Discrimination, rejection, and the challenges of dealing with their identities can contribute to these higher rates of depression. Often, LGBTQ+ people also face barriers in accessing supportive resources and healthcare.12,13

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