According to the American Psychiatric Association, one in fifteen adults in the United States experiences depression every year. Women are twice as likely to develop clinical depression as men. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, this is due to biological, hormonal, and social factors/life circumstances. Life circumstances such as work overload (working and parenting), unequal status, and abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) can increase the likelihood of depression. Up to 1 in 4 women will have a major depressive episode at some point in their life.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks, socializes, and handles daily activities such as sleeping, eating, or working. In general, depression is caused by a combination of environmental, reproductive, genetic, biological, and interpersonal factors. Certain psychological and personality characteristics can increase the risk of depression in women. Compared to men, depression may happen earlier, last longer, and is more likely to return. Depression in women is more likely linked to anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobic symptoms, and eating disorders (WebMD.com).
Depression can often feel like sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. Mild to moderate depression can manifest in symptoms of apathy, reduced appetite, difficulty sleeping, low self-esteem, and low-grade fatigue (WebMD.com). Biologically, women produce more stress hormones than their male counterparts. This is due to the female sex hormone, progesterone, which prevents the stress hormone from turning off. This contributes to women being more susceptible to developing depression through stress (helpguide.org).
Other contributing factors that may increase a woman’s risk of depression include (WebMD.com):
- Family history of mood disorders
- History of mood disorders in early reproductive years
- Loss of a parent before age 10
- Loss of a social support system or the threat of such a loss
- Ongoing psychological and social stress, such as loss of a job, relationship stress, separation, or divorce
- Physical or sexual abuse as a child
- Use of certain medications
Symptoms of Depression in Women
According to the National Institute for Mental Health and WebMD, if a woman has been experiencing these signs and symptoms for at least two weeks, they may be suffering from depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
- Restlessness, crankiness, or excessive crying
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism
- Appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
- Less energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause that do not ease even with treatment
Depression and Hormone Levels
Depression in women may be related to changing hormone levels at different transitional life stages. These changes can be categorized as puberty, pregnancy (giving birth or having a miscarriage), and menopause.
At the onset of puberty, a girl’s risk of developing depression increases to twice that of boys. Along with hormonal changes, other experiences in a girl’s life can be associated with depression including emerging sexuality, identity issues, conflicts with parents, and increasing pressure to succeed (mayoclinic.org). Temporary mood swings due to fluctuating hormones are normal but bodily changes are not the only contributing factor to depression. In addition, body image issues intensify in girls during the sexual development of puberty. This increased stress may also contribute to depression in adolescents.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) vs Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
During menstruation, hormonal fluctuations can cause symptoms of bloating, irritability, fatigue, and emotional reactivity which is common to premenstrual syndrome. Almost 3 out of every 4 women have premenstrual syndrome marked by emotional and physical symptoms, especially when in their 20s and 30s. A more severe version of this is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). About 3-5% of women have PMDD marked by emotional symptoms such as severe depression, irritability, and other mood disturbances. These symptoms appear 10-14 days before the start of a menstrual cycle and can be severe to the point of disabling. The symptoms usually decrease in severity after a few days.
Struggling with depression? Please feel free to call today to schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation or to book an appointment.
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