Sometimes it's sad to be a woman ? but work, not men, is to blame

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Women have never had it so sad. A new survey shows that one in two are suffering from "extreme sadness", a syndrome identified by experts as the new curse for working women.

Women have never had it so sad. A new survey shows that one in two are suffering from "extreme sadness", a syndrome identified by experts as the new curse for working women.

What's more it doesn't seem to make any difference whether women are single or in a relationship, say psychologists. The main factor getting them down is not a Bridget Jones style lack of a man in their lives, but a lack of recognition at work.

According to the survey of 1,000 women, aged between 20 and 35, 51 per cent admitted to "feeling bored or hopeless" when thinking about the future. One in five confessed to going through a period of a week or more when they felt so down they couldn't get out of bed. A similar proportion said they had not felt truly happy for at least six months, while one in three confessed to worrying about their emotional health.

The new condition – labelled "extreme sadness" – stops short of out and out clinical depression, but because of its prevalence is as alarming.

Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe, of the University of Leeds, blames women's frustration in the workplace. "Women of equal or greater ability than their male colleagues are less likely to get promotion, and this only reinforces a lack of confidence in their own competence. Studies consistently find that men overestimate their own ability, whereas women underestimate themselves.

"There are also additional pressures on women on how they look, and if they are in a relationship, how they manage their home life," she says.

Officer worker Rose McClelland, 27, from Twickenham, Middlesex, admits to having suffered from "extreme sadness". "It's scary how quickly you can flip from having a good job and a good life, to feeling that you have nothing," she said. "I'm such a perfectionist I was trying to do everything faultlessly, and putting so much effort into everything I did." She has recovered with the help of anti- depressants and counselling. But pills and doctors are not necessary for the majority of sufferers, said Cary Cooper, professor of psychology and health at Umist: "To address their 'extreme sadness' many just need to reassess their lives, which they can do just by talking things through with their friends or partner."

Perhaps ... but the survey, carried out by Twenty, Twenty for Cosmopolitan and published tomorrow, found that one in five women had sought medical help for depression. As Professor Cooper said: "It's about striking a proper balance between life and work and not expecting too much of yourself. You have to learn to give yourself a break and set aside quality time."

So, how miserable are you?

1 You break the heel of your LK Bennett mules running for the bus, do you:

a) Laugh and exclaim, "they don't make them like they used to!"

b) Swear loudly then go and order a triple chocolate muffin

c) Collapse in the middle of the street and sob?

2 Your best friend says she is getting married, do you:

a) Order a case of champagne to be delivered to her house

b) Phone to congratulate her, adding a wry "I can't believe I'm the last of my friends who is still single!"

c) Refuse to answer her calls but turn up on the day wearing a black dress and dark glasses to hide your puffy, red eyes?

3 Your boyfriend of three years dumps you by e-mail, do you:

a) E-mail back the phone numbers of your single friends

b) Assemble your posse for an evening of sympathy, crème brulée and Chardonnay – and tell them all what a sexual underachiever he was in the hope the rumour will spread

c) Draw the blinds, turn off the lights, get into bed with four boxes of Kleenex and remain there, howling, for a month?

4 You are trying on an outfit like the one you saw Jade Jagger wearing (below). The assistant comes over to you and says, "I think you'll find you're actually a 14, madam ..." Do you:

a) Thank her cheerily for her helpful and friendly advice

b) Snort to indicate you have registered her ridiculous comments and buy the dress in a size 10. It will be perfect for your "thin" days

c) Run out of the shop in tears and such a hurry you forget your handbag. Too humiliated to go back to fetch it, you simply vow never to shop again?

5 Your cat, Twinklepaws, dies of a heart attack, do you:

a) Scoot down to the stray cat pound for Twinklepaws II

b) Scream at the sight and force your dad to come over and bury her in the garden

c) Get her stuffed and, while in the house, keep her with you at all times (except when you are in the bath)?

6 When you wake up in the morning, do you feel:

a) Brimming over with happiness. Every day holds fresh opportunities for joy

b) Hungover. Hungry. And confused as to the identity of the person sleeping so soundly next to you

c) Exhausted, listless, hopeless?

7 Are you on:

a) Multi-vitamins

b) St John's Wort

c) Both, and Prozac, and anything else you can get your hands on?

HOW DID YOU SCORE?

Mostly a: You are certainly not "extremely sad", in fact you are unnaturally happy, a condition almost as problematic. Naivety and childishness can cause difficulties in life (see Tara Palmer-Tomkinson) and it is inevitable that your whole happy façade will come crashing down sooner or later, so arm yourself with a healthy dose of cynicism (see below) while you still can.

Mostly b: You are neither particularly happy, nor "extremely sad", which is as it should be. However, be vigilant: if you burst into tears more than once a day, perhaps you should seek therapy (retail is best).

Mostly c: Where before you were a bit of a bore, you are now "extremely sad". It is unlikely doctors will be able to help as this is not a medically recognised condition. Look at things rationally: you have a job, a home, friends, family, pets. Things can't be that bad, so lighten up! Please.

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