Depression in Women
Here are the facts about depression in women: In the U.S., about 15 million people experience depression each year. The majority of them are women. Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds do not get the help they need.
Depression in women is very common. In fact, women are twice as likely to develop clinical depression as men. Up to one in four women is likely to have an episode of major depression at some point in life.
Clinical depression is a serious and pervasive mood disorder. It causes feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. Depression can be mild to moderate with symptoms of apathy, little appetite, difficulty sleeping, low self-esteem, and low-grade fatigue. Or it can be more severe.
Symptoms of depression in women include:
Mania is a highly energized state with elevated mood that can occur in bipolar disorder. Moods in bipolar disorder swing over the course of days or weeks or months from the lows of depression to the highs of mania. Even though mania is an elevated mood, it is serious and needs medical assessment and treatment.
The symptoms of mania include:
Before adolescence, depression is rare and occurs at about the same rate in girls and boys. However, with the onset of puberty, a girl’s risk of developing depression increases dramatically to twice that of boys.
Some experts believe that the increased chance of depression in women may be related to changes in hormone levels that occur throughout a woman’s life. These changes are evident during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, as well as after giving birth or experiencing a miscarriage. In addition, the hormone fluctuations that occur with each month’s menstrual cycle probably contribute to premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD — a severe syndrome marked especially by depression, anxiety, and mood swings that occurs the week before menstruation and interferes with normal functioning of daily life.
According to the National Institutes of Health, factors that increase the risk of depression in women include reproductive, genetic, or other biological factors; interpersonal factors; and certain psychological and personality characteristics. In addition, women juggling work with raising kids and women who are single parents suffer more stress that may trigger symptoms of depression. Other factors that could increase risk include:
Depression can run in families. When it does, it generally starts between ages 15 and 30. A family link to depression is much more common in women. However, there is not always an apparent genetic or hereditary link to explain why someone may develop clinical depression.
Depression in women differs from depression in men in several ways:
As many as three out of every four menstruating women experience premenstrual syndrome or PMS. PMS is a disorder characterized by emotional and physical symptoms that fluctuate in intensity from one menstrual cycle to the next. Women in their 20s or 30s are usually affected.
About 3% to 5% of menstruating women experience premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD. PMDD is a severe form of PMS, marked by highly emotional and physical symptoms that usually become more severe seven to 10 days before the onset of menstruation.
In the last decade, these conditions have become recognized as important causes of discomfort and behavioral change in women. While the precise link between PMS, PMDD, and depression is still unclear, abnormalities in the functioning of brain circuits that regulate mood, along with fluctuating hormone levels are both thought to be contributing factors.
Many women who suffer with depression along with PMS or PMDD find improvement through exercise or meditation. For individuals with severe symptoms, medicine, individual or group psychotherapy, or stress management may be helpful. Your primary care doctor or Ob-Gyn is a good place to start. Your doctor can screen you for depression and treat your symptoms.
Pregnancy was once assumed to be a period of well-being that protected women against psychiatric disorders. But depression in women occurs almost as commonly in pregnant women as it does in those who are not pregnant. The factors which increase the risk of depression in women during pregnancy are:
The potential impact of depression on a pregnancy includes the following:
Pregnancy may have the following impact on depression in women:
Preparing for a new baby is lots of hard work. But your health should come first. Resist the urge to get everything done, cut down on your chores, and do things that will help you relax. In addition, talking about things that concern you is very important. Talk to your friends, your partner, and your family. If you ask for support, you will find you often get it.
Growing evidence suggests that many of the currently available antidepressant medicines, including most SSRIs (except for Paxil), appear to have minimal (if any) risks when treating depression during pregnancy, at least in terms of the potential short-term effects on the baby. Long-term effects continue to be studied. Risks can differ depending on medication as well as many other factors during a pregnancy that can endanger a developing fetus. Untreated depression can put both mother and infant at risk. Often, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is considered to be the safest and most effective treatment for severe depression during pregnancy.
You should discuss the possible risks and benefits of treatment with your doctor.
Postpartum depression, or depression following childbirth, can be treated like other forms of depression. That means using medicines and/or psychotherapy. If a woman is breastfeeding, the decision to take an antidepressant should be made with the baby’s pediatrician along with her own psychiatrist after a discussion of risks and benefits. Most antidepressants are expressed in very small amounts in breast milk and their possible effects on a nursing infant, if any, are not well understood.
Perimenopause is the stage of a woman’s reproductive life that typically begins in her 40s (or earlier for some) and lasts until menstruation has ceased for a year (and a woman is considered to be in menopause). In the last one to two years of perimenopause, the decrease in estrogen accelerates. At this stage, many women experience menopausal symptoms.
Menopause is the period of time when a woman stops having her monthly period and experiences symptoms related to the lack of estrogen production. By definition, a woman is in menopause after her periods have stopped for one year. Menopause typically occurs in a woman’s late 40s to early 50s. However, women who have their ovaries surgically removed undergo “sudden” menopause.
The drop in estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause triggers physical and emotional changes — such as depression or anxiety. Like at any other point in a woman’s life, there is a relationship between hormone levels and physical and emotional symptoms. Some physical changes include irregular or skipped periods, heavier or lighter periods, and hot flashes.
There are many ways you can ease menopause symptoms and maintain your health. These tips include ways to cope with mood swings, fears, and depression:
Family therapy may be helpful if family stress adds to your depression. Your mental health care provider or primary care doctor will determine the best course of treatment for you. If you are uncertain whom to call for help with depression, consider checking out the following resources:
National Institute of Mental Health: “Depression: What Every Woman Should Know” and “Depression.”
FDA: “The Lowdown on Depression” and “Understanding Antidepressant Medications.”
American Psychiatric Association, Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Major Depression, 2000. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR, American Psychiatric Pub, 2000.
Fieve, R, MD. Bipolar II, Rodale Books, 2006.
WebMD: Menopause Health Center.
The Journal of the American Medical Association. “Recommendations for Screening Depression in Adults,” Vol. 315, No. 4, January 26, 2016.
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Depression in Women
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