Why Gender Matters When Treating Depression

10/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Robin Lynne Gibson Newsweek

or years, researchers have known that women are twice as likely to develop depression as men and they suffer a wider range of symptoms. But when it came to prescribing effective treatments, researchers couldn't agree if gender mattered. As some small studies suggested, certain drugs worked better in women than men. Could there be significant biological differences in how each gender responded to these medications? A $35 million, federally funded study, was commissioned to answer the controversy, and its just-published results suggest that the answer to both questions is a probable yes.

The STAR*D (Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression) study, the largest and most rigorous depression study done to date, enrolled 2,876 men and women (ages 18 to 75) from 41 treatment centers with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). All participants were treated for 12 to 14 weeks with citalopram (popularly known as Celexa), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), currently the most popular class of antidepressants on the market.

Even though the women in the study generally had more severe depressive symptoms than the men, they were 33 percent more likely than the male participants to achieve a full remission.