In my last blog on depression I addressed how depression affected children and young teens. I also pointed out the higher incidence of depression for girls after puberty. So, in todays blog, I want to further discuss that fact and focus on how depression affects women.
YOUNG WOMEN (TEENS)
Let me start out by talking about young women for just a bit. By the age of 15, females are twice as likely to have experienced a major depressive episode than males. In fact, female high school students have been shown in studies to have significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, eating and adjustment disorders than male students.
If you are a woman reading this, for just a moment, close your eyes and travel back in time with me to the age of 15 and try to remember all the changes taking place at that time of your life. Ugh! The stresses of adolescence—trying to figure out who you are, emerging sexuality, learning how to become a little more independent and making decisions for the first time. And then on top of all of that, add physical, intellectual and hormonal changes to the mix. These stresses are in general different for boys than they are for girls and may be associated more often with depression in females.
So I guess the question is, why, do women suffer from depression twice as much as men? The answer is a little hard to nail down 100%. While there are many theories as to the cause, I will discuss three reasons that have been implicated: psychological, social, and biological. However, something to keep in mind is that though women are twice as likely to experience depression, it should not be considered a “normal” part of being a woman nor should it be seen as a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a medical illness that affects more than 15 million American adults each year age 18 and older. It can occur in any woman, at any time, and for various reasons regardless of age, race or income.
Some of us women are over thinkers. When we get depressed we tend to dwell on the situation and rehash the negative feelings. While it might be a normal response to cry, talk with friends, and rehash why we are depressed, research shows that ruminating about it can make the depression last longer and even make it worse.
Another psychological factor that tends to affect us women more than men are negative body images and stress-induced depression. Women are more prone to stress because we have increased progesterone levels which have been shown to prevent stress hormones from leveling out. As far as the negative body image issues, they usually begin in adolescence and seem to be connected with the start of puberty in women.
Some of the social factors that may lead to depression in women include:
- Stress from work — discrimination at work or not reaching important goals, job change, retirement
- Family responsibilities—caring for children, spouse, or aging parents
- Roles and expectations of women — balancing the pressures of career and home life
- Income levels— persistent money problems
- Stressful life events — death of a loved one, domestic violence, sexual abuse
BIOLOGICAL AND HORMONES
Biologically speaking, depression runs in families. However, just because you may be more prone to depression because of your genes, healthy family and social relationships can increase resilience.
Other biological and hormonal factors that are also likely to increase the chances of suffering from depression are issues with premenstrual problems, infertility, pregnancy, postpartum depression, peri-menopause/menopause. Most of these are due to the hormonal imbalances and rapid fluctuations in reproductive hormones.
Something else to consider is how the stress of dealing with health problems such as a chronic illness, injury, or disability can also lead to depression or make it worse. Some chronic diseases can change your body chemistry and cause depression such as an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism).
In addition to the psychological, social, and biological causes of depression mentioned above, the National Institutes of Health indicate the following are also increased risk factors of depression in women:
- death of a parent before age 10
- job loss, relationship problems, divorce
- physical or sexual abuse during childhood
- history of mood disorders
- use of certain medications
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
If you treat depression, it can improve your health and quality of life. There are some things you can do to help yourself and the first one is knowing the signs of depression so you can get treatment. The symptoms of depression can vary depending on whether you are suffering from mild to severe or major depression and are characterized by the impact they have on a woman’s ability to function. Common complaints include:
- pronounced feelings of guilt, hopelessness and worthlessness
- sleep disturbances (Sleeping more or sleeping less)
- appetite and weight changes
- lack of energy and fatigue
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- difficulty concentrating
- feeling out of control
- panic attacks
- suicidal thoughts or attempts of suicide
The most common treatment options for women suffering from depression include medications and therapy. Therapy has been shown to be a very effective method of treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common forms of talk therapy, or psychotherapy. With CBT one learns new ways of thinking in addition to coping mechanisms to use when feelings of depression hits.
This one-on-one therapy is also helpful in assisting women in understanding difficult relationships they might be in and how to improve them. It also helps women to change habits that might be contributing to their depression. Group therapy or family therapy is also helpful if family stress is a contributing factor to one’s depressed state.
Along with medication and/or therapy, there also are some self-help techniques that can help improve your mood if you are suffering from depression. You will find them listed below:
- Find a listening ear — Share your feelings with people you can trust and don’t be afraid to ask for the help and support you need.
- Engaged activity — Even when you don’t feel like it, (and you probably won’t) stay engaged in social activities and social functions.
- Physical exercise – Studies show that regular exercise can be as effective as anti-depressant medication in increasing energy levels and decreasing feelings of fatigue. Even three or four 10 minute short bursts of movement throughout the day can be just as effective as 30 minutes at one time.
- Sleep — Get enough sleep – 8 hours per night is ideal.
- Practice relaxation techniques — Meditate, try yoga, or practice other relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
Fewer than half of the women who experience major depression will ever seek treatment. Don’t be one of them! Depression can be treated successfully with the right treatment. If you would like help and need to talk to someone, please call me at (616) 516-1570 or click on the blue “contact” tab on the bottom right hand corner and together we will begin taking the steps that can and will make a difference in your life.