Why So Many Women in Middle Age Are on Antidepressants


For years, middle-aged women have had some of the country’s highest rates of antidepressant use. Now, scientists are starting to better understand why—and to develop more targeted treatments for women’s midlife depression.

About one in five women ages 40 to 59 and nearly one in four women ages 60 and over used antidepressants in the last 30 days during 2015 to 2018, according to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Among women ages 18 to 39, the figure was about one in 10. Among men, 8.4% of those ages 40 to 59 and 12.8% of those 60 and older used antidepressants in the last 30 days, according to the NCHS data.

The figures are drawing increasing attention from scientists and doctors. Many are alarmed at how high depression rates were among midlife women even before the pandemic, now that the past two years have exacerbated mental-health issues for many Americans. And some doctors are also concerned that antidepressants are being overprescribed for menopausal symptoms.

In general, women have higher rates of depression than men throughout much of their lives according to scientific research. In midlife, the risk is greatest during the years leading up to menopause and right after it. The dramatic fluctuations in hormones that cause the most-commonly known symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats can wreak havoc on mood, too.

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