Depression is not simply defined by a brief period of sadness – it is much more serious than that. Depression is a common mental health disorder characterized by persistently ‘feeling low’ or loss of interest in routine activities. The condition, over time, may take a toll on your daily life. How common is depression worldwide? The World Health Organization claims that an estimated over 300 million people across the world suffer from depression. It is also one of the leading causes of disability in the world. Although depression can affect anyone at any age, studies indicate that women as young as 12 years of age are twice as likely to experience it as men are.
Causes of Depression in Women
So why are women more likely to suffer from clinical depression? To begin with, as per the reports of the National Institute of Mental Health, a combination of psychological and biological factors could be the reason why females are at a greater risk of developing this mental health disorder as compared to men.
Depression often runs in families. Scientific studies show that certain genetic compositions are prone to depression while some others are resistant to it. Therefore, women, who have a family history of clinical depression, are more likely to be diagnosed with the condition at any point in their lives.
Hormonal and biological factors also play a key role in increasing your likelihood of developing depression. Health issues with fertility, pregnancy, menstrual cycle, menopause, and perimenopause make women more susceptible to the condition. Most of these health problems are triggered by hormonal imbalances and fluctuations in the reproductive hormones.
Stressful life events and emotional stress are yet another major factors leading women to the path of depression. Evidence suggests that females are more likely to experience traumatic or stressful life events throughout the lifetime, and are more sensitive to such events, as compared to the males. These events may include – sexual or physical abuse at a young age, divorce or separation, loss of a loved one, unemployment or loss of a job, a failed marriage, relationship stress, and so on.
Use of certain medications and drugs, or an underlying mental health condition/disorder, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and others may also cause episodes of depression in women.
Types of Depression Prevalent in Women
Depression can affect women in different ways due to varied reasons. The following are the most common forms of depression observed in women –
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Commonly referred to as PMDD, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe form of PMS, where women experience signs of depression, tension, and irritability before menstruation.
This form of depression is common in women during pregnancy or right after giving birth. During pregnancy, your body hormones fluctuate rapidly, triggering mood swings and signs of depression and anxiety. A miscarriage, relationship issue, lack of support from family and friends, and similar events occurring in your life can make you feel depressed during this phase.
Postpartum depression is a common type of depression that occurs after childbirth, meaning it affects new mothers. The condition typically occurs within 4-6 weeks after you have given birth. Studies show that about 10-15% of new mothers experience postpartum depression and the majority of these women have higher chances of developing clinical depression later on in life.
This form of depression affects women during the period of transition to menopause. Your body goes through significant hormonal changes when you enter perimenopause, and eventually, menopause. Due to these hormonal alterations or imbalances, women at this stage are likely to experience signs of depression. A study conducted in the year 2006 reported that one out of six female participants without a family history of depression encountered depressive symptoms during perimenopause.
Symptoms of Depression in Women
Depression is not always easy to identify. Most often, a person suffering from depression may not be aware that he/she is dealing with the condition until the symptoms have been troubling them for an extended period.
The most common signs of depression in women may include the following –
- Loss of interest in the activities or hobbies that once used to seem entertaining and fun
- Loss of interest in sex or intimacy with a partner
- Lack of concentration
- Inability to remember minute details or focus on things for a long time
- Lack of energy
- Feelings of persistent sadness, hopelessness, emptiness, and despair
- Change in or loss of appetite – eating too little or too much
- Losing weight drastically
- Feeling exhausted or weak without an apparent cause
- A strong sense of guilt
- A persistent feeling of worthlessness, considering oneself to be incompetent and unimportant
- Feeling irritable or anxious
- Experiencing major mood swings, panic attacks
- Having suicidal thoughts, often or over and over again
- Giving up on the hope of future
- Lack of sleep or difficulty to sleep at night, often resulting in insomnia
- Physical symptoms, such as cramps, pain and aches, headaches, bloating, digestive problems
The symptoms of depression in women vary from one individual to another. It is important to recognize the warning signs of clinical depression so that you can seek proper diagnosis and treatment before it starts to affect your quality of life.
Treatment for Women Suffering From Depression
The first course of action upon identifying the symptoms should be visiting a doctor. You may be asked a series of questions concerning the causes and symptoms of depression. For example – whether you are on certain medication or whether you have someone in your family who has been living with depression, how long have you been experiencing the symptoms, when and how the symptoms started, how persistent or common they are, and how severe the symptoms can get. The line of treatment will depend on the severity of your condition.
Treatment options for depression in women mainly include the following –
Psychotherapy includes discussing your mental health issues with a professional or therapist. The therapist can help you determine certain behavioral patterns contributing to your depression using effective therapy techniques, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy.
Antidepressant medications are commonly used to treat depression in women. Most often, these medications, when taken as per the recommended dose, are effective and safe to take. However, if you are pregnant, you might be at risk of side effects. Therefore, it is imperative that pregnant women inform the doctor about their condition and inquire about the possible effects before popping a pill. Read more on the side effect of antidepressants.
Fortunately, treatment of depression has witnessed a high success rate. Over 80% of women living with this condition have been treated successfully through therapy, antidepressants, or a combination of both.
Additionally, making positive lifestyle changes may also help with the treatment of depression in women. Eating healthy, exercising more often and giving up on unhealthy habits are linked to better chances of coping with mental health disorders.
Must Read: Natural Treatment for Depression
Life is full of ups and lows, and it is completely natural to feel sad – nevertheless, if the feeling of sadness or despair lasts for over two weeks, then it could be an indication of clinical depression – and you might want to consider speaking with a professional. One of the most important things to do is to stick to the treatment plan. It is possible that you feel discouraged or unwilling to continue with the prescribed treatment but the improvement in the condition usually starts showing a few months after you begin your treatment