Depression can be a serious illness that afflicts anyone regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity or social status and should be treated immediately. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with a depressive disorder.
While a number of factors may contribute to the development of a depressive disorder in general, women may be more susceptible to depression as a result of specific hormonal changes and social stresses as indicated below:
- Hormonal changes associated with:
- Menstrual cycle changes
- Postpartum period
- Social stresses:
- Balancing work and family responsibilities
- Roles and expectations of women
- Increased rates of sexual abuse and poverty
Dimensions of Depression in a Woman's Life
In the National Institute of Mental Health's (NIMH) publication Depression: What Every Woman Should Know, different dimensions of depression are outlined. These dimensions are expressed during different stages of a woman's life or under specific circumstances:
- Adolescence - At the age of 15, females are twice as likely to have experienced a major depressive disorder as males. This corresponds to a time when roles and expectations for women change dramatically alongside their physical, intellectual, and hormonal changes. In high school where males have higher rates of disruptive behavior disorders, females have higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and adjustment disorders.
- Adulthood - Many women experience significant stresses which may include responsibilities at work and home, single parenthood, and caring for others (children and adults). Rates of major depression are highest among women separated and divorced, although married women in unhappy marriages may have a high rate of depression.
- Reproductive Events - Some women experience behavioral and physical changes associated with their menstrual cycle, and research confirms that hormones do have an effect on the brain chemistry that controls emotions and mood. Women may experience depressed feelings, irritability, and other emotional changes that have been identified as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Postpartum depression can occur after childbirth. For women who have a history of clinical depression, depression may be triggered with menopause.
- Victimization - Studies show that women who have been molested as children and who experience reoccurring forms of abuse have an increased incidence of depression. Abuse may lead to depression because it can encourage low self-esteem, a sense of helplessness, self-blame, and social isolation.
- Poverty - The stresses of poverty are many for the women and children who make up seventy-five percent of the U.S. population considered to be poor. These stresses include: isolation, uncertainty, frequent negative events, and poor access to resources.
- Later Adulthood - Among the elderly more women than men suffer from depression, and this may correspond to widowhood and the death of a spouse. Depression should not be considered a natural part of aging, and sometimes, depressive symptoms are overlooked. Some depressive symptoms, however, may be side effects of medications.
Fortunately, depression is a treatable illness, and the earlier treatment begins the more effective it is for the patient.
You may have clinical depression if you experience two or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or inappropriate or excessive guilt
- Sleeping too much or too little, or early-morning awakening nearly everyday
- Significant weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down," or restless
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
If you suspect that you or someone you love may be experiencing depression, seek help. There are two major treatment options for treatment of depression:
- Medication - Commonly, antidepressant medications that affect chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) are used to treat depression. There are several different types of antidepressant medications. It may take up to six weeks for these medications to be effective. The decision regarding the most appropriate antidepressant depends on a number of factors and should only be made by your treating physician. Medication should be continued for at least 6 to 9 months to be most effective and prevent relapse. You may experience side effects depending on the medication and should discuss these with your physician.
- Psychotherapy - In order to learn better strategies to handle problems, you may talk with a trained mental health professional. This can also alleviate symptoms of depression. Cognitive/behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy, may help change negative styles of thinking and behavior, which may contribute to clinical depression. Interpersonal therapy is aimed to help you deal with other people and relationships that may affect or contribute to clinical depression.
No two people experience depression in the same way, and though depression is a treatable condition, many women unfortunately do not seek help because they are embarrassed or don't recognize their problems and symptoms as a disease. If you believe that you or that someone you love is experiencing depression, the following are some suggestions for you:
- Talk to your doctor about how you are feeling
- Consider an evaluation by a trained behavioral health clinician
- Call us for confidential assistance
- Call your Employee Assistance Program
- Remember that depression is treatable