Single Women And Depression Social Work Essay

Modified: 1st Jan 2015
Wordcount: 2480 words

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Depression in single, married and widowed/divorced employed mothers

Mental health is gradually becoming a focus in today’s society. Women are diagnosed with mental illness two-to-one compared to men. Some hypothesis to the reason for these unequal statistics include hormone differences, cultural stifling of women’s creative expression leading to maladjusted coping mechanisms, or misdiagnoses by sexist doctors (News for Healthy Living, 1999). A woman’s circumstance highly influences her likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder. This paper will analyze the prevalence of mental illness, especially anxiety disorders and depression, among employed mothers who are either single parents, in a heterosexual marriage, or widowed or divorced.

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Afifi, Cox and Enns found that married women suffer from the fewest psychiatric conditions, never married women slightly higher, and divorced women have significantly the highest number of psychiatric diagnoses (2006). This is possibly because married women often have far less risky behaviors and lower mortality rates than their unmarried counterparts (St. John & Montgomery, 2009). Financial hardships, low wages, working multiple jobs, unemployment, and lack of social support, contribute to depressive symptoms, though they have different effects on women with different relationship situations (Wang, 2004). These situations are merely predictors of depression not deciders and will affect single and married mothers differently. Single, widowed and divorced mothers will have higher stresses, and therefore depressive symptoms, relating to financial issues. While married women will have depressive symptoms more related to their relationship. People in unhappy marriages or those who are not satisfied with their partner may have high levels of depressive symptoms. Even more, being dissatisfied with one’s living partner is correlated with depressive symptoms in women (St. John & Montgomery, 2009).

The coping mechanisms which are often associated with depression in married, single, and divorced or widowed women are generally negative and harmful to both themselves and their social relationships. Depression and alcohol problems are often co-morbid in both single and married women (Kelly, Halford, & Young, 2000). In addition, depression and coping mechanisms often negatively affect the relationship between married women and their spouses. Depressed women and their partners report more destructive and inefficient ways of conflict communication and resolution (Heene, Buysse, & Van Oost, 2007). More effective interventions should be reviewed to address not only the cause of the depression and depressive symptoms, but to introduce more operative coping mechanisms.

Single Women and Depression

Single employed mothers have a wide variety of stressors in their lives. These stressors are associated with a higher probability of developing an anxiety disorder, especially depression. Low income, low education, family size, and ethnicity are stressors which are highly associated with depression for single mothers (Afifi, Cox, & Enns, 2006). The main stressors of a single mother’s life are centered on her children and being able to provide for them. Those who were forced to work more than one job to provide for their family, especially those who were non-white, had an increased risk of developing major depressive disorder than their married counterparts (Wang, 2004). Often, the choice between spending more time at work and more time with their family is not a difficult one and does not add to the distress felt. Ethnicity however is a stressor in every sphere of life and is often linked to lower educations, lower wage, and discrimination. It is possible that non-white single mothers are not distressed about their ethnicity, but about the situations their ethnicity forces them into with regard to the ability to provide for their family.

Reducing stressors, and therefore depressive symptom risks, is important to curb the anxiety disorders and depression among employed single mothers. Non-traditional sex-role attitudes, more time at work, higher income, low work-family strain, and high self-esteem are associated with lower levels of depression among single mothers (Keith & Schafer, 1982). All of these situations allow for greater opportunities for a woman to provide for her family, thus creating a less stressful lifestyle. However, managing stress and depressive symptoms is also an area to be involved in. Single mothers are more likely to use mental health care services than their married counterparts (Wang, 2004).Whether this is because they have a less stable social support network, or married women feel ashamed for needing these services is unclear. However these statistics are only significant before the age of 50 (Wang, 2004). This is possibly linked to the aging of the children and the support the single mother received from her adult children she no longer must support.

Married Women and Depression

For married women and mothers, stressors and triggers of depression focus less on providing for their family and more on their interactions and self-sacrifices for that family. Married women spend approximately 40 hours a week doing household chores (to a man’s 17), that is a 70/30% split (News for Healthy Living, 1999). These statistics hold true for both employed women and housewives. The increase stresses of having to be both a financial and domestic provider is a key reason married women develop depressive symptoms. Married women cite losing the opportunity to pursue higher education or dream careers due to expectations of maintaining a household and family as one of their major causes of depression (St. John & Montgomery, 2009). Even when a woman does hold a job, she feels that her income is less important than her husband’s (which is usually higher). In these situations, she is often more distressed by her husband’s performance than by her own (Keith & Schafer, 1982). Often, increased involvement in leisure activities appear to be negatively associated with well-being, suggesting that further structured time commitments beyond those to her family may be more stressful than helpful for a married mother (Janke, Nimrod, & Kleiber, 2008).

Positive work orientation, high self-esteem, less time spent at work and higher satisfaction with both domestic tasks and their partner and relationship were linked with lower depression rates among married mothers (Keith & Schafer, 1982). Partner satisfaction is an important reducer to the stresses, and ultimately depressive symptoms, in a married mother’s life. There is significantly less martial adjustment and cooperation in marriages with at least one depressed partner (Heene, Buysse, & Van Oost, 2007). Whether this is the cause or the result of the depression however is unclear. Drinking is a common form of stress control among married women; however this often leads to more stressful situations. Reductions in excessive drinking behaviors led to a modest improval in martial satisfaction rates and decreased depression (Kelly, Halford, & Young, 2000). One of the highest causes of stress in married mother’s lives is their over commitment to their surrounding friends and family. It has been shown that decreasing the number of unsatisfying social connections, such as clubs and other leisure activities, may increase a married women’s mental health (Janke, Nimrod, & Kleiber, 2008).

Widowed and Divorced Women and Depression

While single (never-married) and currently married mothers have similar prevalence rates of mental health disorders, widowed and divorced women have a much greater occurrence (Afifi, Cox, & Enns, 2006). Separated and divorced mothers have higher instances of diagnosable anxious-misery disorders including depression, dysthymia, general anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and antisocial personality disorder, while widowed mothers have much higher instances of PTSD and major depressive disorder (Afifi, Cox, & Enns, 2006). For widowed women the personal bereavement period and the psychological stresses of losing a spouse are often detrimental enough to trigger depressive symptoms or a depressive episode, especially in older women. Divorced women however are triggered not by losing their spouse, but by the process of divorce itself. A more hostile divorce will lead to greater instances of anxiety disorders as more negative interactions with a spouse is associated with depression (Afifi, Cox, & Enns, 2006).

Social support after being widowed or divorced is often lacking and needs to be cultivated to provide widows and divorcees with the means to combat their depression. Rates of adult engagement in pleasant activities have been link with subsequent decreases in levels of depressive symptoms (Janke, Nimrod, Kleiber, 2008). Isolation is prevalent after a spouse has died or left a woman, especially if she has children. She must now learn to provide for her family without her partner, and often times, without her main support system. More social contact, especially in the form of leisure activities with women their own age is recommended for widows or divorcees with depressive symptoms or on the edge of developing symptoms of an anxiety disorder (Janke, Nimrod, Kleiber, 2008).

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Depression Interventions

Single, married and widowed or divorced mothers all have different stressors and triggers of depressive symptoms in their everyday lives. Each woman should ideally have an intervention created specifically to her socioeconomic status, relationship level and needs, child situation and other stress-inducing lifestyle characteristics. However, there are a few general guidelines about depression interventions in women which may apply to all categories. Distress, especially in relationships, is common in women with alcohol problems. These women report low confidence about resolving disagreements with their children, bosses, and/or partners (Kelly, Halford, & Young, 2000). Alcohol use and abuse is also co-related to high rates of spousal aggressive and instances of excessive drinking in response to conflicts. While alcohol interventions alone improve relationships within the first 12 months of the decrease in drinking behavior, relapse often occurs if the original cause of the depression is not addressed and more viable coping mechanisms are not introduced (Kelly, Halford, & Young, 2000). Women need to focus more on themselves, their inner growth, family and friends with whom they have close connections before over extending themselves; this could mean either eliminating unnecessary social connections or creating them depending on one’s situation (Janke, Nimrod, & Kleiber, 2008).

Communication is the largest mechanism for combating stress and depressive disorder is women of all relationships levels. Women are more likely to express demands in relationships, whereas men withdraw themselves, and failure to have these expressed demands met often lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression (Heene, Buysse, & Van Oost, 2007). These lower levels of communication, which could include avoidance or varying demand/withdrawal relationships, lead to little conflict resolution, less constructive communication and problem solving skills, more avoidant or ambivalent relationships in couples and often fosters depression or other anxiety disorders (Heene, Buysse, & Van Oost, 2007).

A common place for miscommunication is relationships, especially marriages, is the performance of household chores. Keith and Schafer found a significant link between satisfaction over housework and the mental health of married women suggesting that homemaking may have a greater important when both spouses were equally present (1982). The traditional sex-roles which often survive in marriages lead to greater depressive symptoms and depression in married women, whereas non-traditional sex-role attitudes have been shown to decrease depression in single women (Keith & Schafer, 1982). It is not keeping the home which leads to the depressive symptoms, but the division of the work. The bigger the woman’s share of home responsibilities when compared to her partner the more likely she is to feel distressed and depressed (News for Healthy Living, 1999).


Single, employed mothers most often experience distress and depression relating to their financial situations and their ability to care for their children. Married women usually experience this distress relating to their relationship with their partner and the things they were forced to give up for their marriage. Widowed and divorced women’s distress is generally focused around changing familial roles and the loss of familiar social support systems. Depression is more prevalent in widows and divorcees and least prevalent in married women, though this many have to do with the stress inducers of each group and the economic depression of the time period (St. John & Montgomery, 2009).

While the stressors of these women are all different, some common interventions are useful. Self-esteem is a large factor is all depressive symptoms and in the development of depression. Interventions aimed at increasing a woman’s self-esteem will be useful for all relationship levels (Keith & Schafer, 1982). Depressed women have higher levels of attachment insecurity and therefore decreased conflict resolution skills, it is not clear however if the depression causes the decrease in relationship effectiveness, or the dysfunctional relationship is the cause of the depression (Heene, Buysse, & Van Oost, 2007). Carefully selecting relationships to cultivate is important, whether growing new social support networks or strengthening existing ones, over or under stimulation socially is a large cause of depressive symptoms in women and mothers. A large conflict between work and home roles is a significant predictor of depression in women, so dividing the housework evenly among partners will significantly reduce the occurrences of depression (News for Health Living, 1999; Wang, 2004).

While depression will always occur in relationships, due to work and home stresses, from the burden of caring for children, and as a result of changes in a person’s life; knowing the proper way to combat those stressors will significantly reduce a women’s likelihood of developing depressive symptoms or anxiety disorders and allow them to pursue healthy and fulfilling relationships.


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