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Salud mental

versión impresa ISSN 0185-3325


BERENZON GORN, Shoshana; TIBURCIO SAINZ, Marcela  y  MEDINA-MORA ICAZA, Ma. Elena. Variables demográficas asociadas con la depresión: diferencias entre hombres y mujeres que habitan en zonas urbanas de bajos ingresos. Salud Ment [online]. 2005, vol.28, n.6, pp.33-40. ISSN 0185-3325.

This paper is aimed at exploring the relationship of some socio-demographic variables with the presence of depressive disorders among a low-income urban sample. Different variables have consistently been associated with such disorders, for instance, marital status, sex, and socio-economic status.

As to marital status, some studies show that married people have better health conditions and feel more satisfied with their lives than their unmarried counterparts. Similarly, it has been found that widowed or divorced people present a number of psychological problems.

Low-income population is also at high risk of suffering depressive symptoms, in this sense, some researchers have stated that the lack of resources is associated with sadness, high stress levels, isolation, uncertainty, and low access to health care and/or other sources of support.

According to the Mexican National Survey on Mental Health conducted with urban population over 18, the prevalence of depressive disorders is higher among widowers and divorced individuals -both males and females- than among their married counterparts. In addition, an association was found between depression, low schooling and unemployment.

A survey undertaken in Mexico City yielded similar results though gender differences were not explored; higher prevalences of depression were found for those who reported having lost their couple or marital break up than for those who were married or single. Other groups that had high depression prevalence were lower income individuals, and those with less schooling.

Couple relationships and other socio-demographic variables play a key role in the presence of depressive disorders. Thus, the present study is aimed at: a) analysing how marital status affects the presence of depressive disorders in men and women; b) exploring the role of low socio-economic level in the presence of depressive symptoms; c) exploring which combination of socio-demographic variables better predict the presence of depressive disorder in males and females


This research was carried out in four low-income communities located in southern Mexico City. The selected communities include Topilejo, Isidro Fabela and San Pedro Mártir within the Tlalpan district, and the fourth community was constituted by the neighbourhoods of San Marcos and San Juan, in the Xochimilco district.

The research design was multistage; blocks were selected at the first stage, dwelling segments, at second stage, and finally, in the third stage the interviewed individual was selected. After this procedure, the final sample consisted of 1156 interviewees, 49% were males and 51% females.

The information was gathered through a household questionnaire that explores the general characteristics of the people living in the same dwelling listed on the questionnaire, such as relationship to the family head, age, sex, schooling and income. Some other aspects related to the dwelling characteristics were also explored.

Diagnosis of depressive disorder was obtained through the diagnostic interview CIDI version 1.1, which assesses the presence of mental disorders according to the criteria of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.

The selected interviewees participated voluntarily after the research objectives were explained; in addition, the terms of confidentiality were particularly emphasized. Each interview lasted 90 minutes on average. Data analysis were performed with the statistical program SPSS v. 10 for Windows.


The findings showed higher prevalence of depressive disorders among females, among people that experienced loss or family rupture and among those with lower economic resources.

Similarly, prevalence of depression was higher for men (6.1%) and women (18.3%) who had lost their spouse than for their married counterpart. As to differences between married and single people, the prevalence of depressive disorders in the group of men that had ever married was lower (4.9%) than the prevalence found in the group of married men (5.8%). The opposite was observed among females, since single women present more depressive problems (13.2%) than married women (5.3%).

Results also showed how economic difficulties have an effect on the presence of depressive disorders. However, differencesbetween married and single men with the lowest income were minimal.

Two logistic regression models show that, particularly among women, the presence of depressive disorder is related to the lack of a couple, economic disadvantages; for instance, low family income, belonging to a large extended family, and playing the social role of family head, which implies responsibility to a large extent.


The findings of the present study are consistent with previous research that report higher prevalence of depression among females, people without a couple and those with less economic resources.

Different authors have confirmed that problems of economic nature are consistently associated with depression problems. Lack of resources leads to high stress levels, sadness, isolation, among other troubles. This situation is more severe for females. Women play a number of social roles that put them at higher risk of suffering mental disorders. Nowadays, women still bear the responsibility of being wives, mothers, educators and care providers for many people, and have become an important part of the work force at the same time.

The deficiencies that female family heads must face in different areas not only increase the risk of suffering disorders such as depression and poor quality of life, but also jeopardize their children’s opportunities in the future.

Dejarlais and colleagues suggest that in order to improve these women’s mental health it is necessary to take actions in two ways. On the one hand, it is essential to deal with the factors related to the presence of female distress; on the other, it is crucial to provide attention to reduce the negative consequences.

In this way, any prevention or intervention program must include, among other elements, tools to expand women’s capabilities to have an income, reinforce social support networks, and to stimulate social and community participation in order to improve their cognitive and relational resources as well as self-esteem.

In addition, women must have information about the pathological process they undergo and attention options at their disposal, but to make these programs effective it is above all necessary to tailor them according to women’s concerns and needs. This can only be possible if women act as active collaborators.

Finally, to work on intervention and prevention programs for female family heads encloses the possibility of breaking the cycle that reproduces distress among their children.

Palabras llave : Depressive disorders; poverty; marital status; Mexico; urban population.

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