Mental health is the need of the hour. Period. As the world struggles to get back to normal after a pandemic, it is crucial to consider its adverse effects on people’s mental states, and mental disorders are rising.
Several studies have proven that women are more prone to depression than men. About 12 million women experience clinical depression symptoms each year in America.
Depression is a very serious disorder that takes several lives each year. Sadly, it is not as important as a physical illness and often goes undiagnosed.
To treat depression effectively, the first indispensable step is the timely recognition of its symptoms. Early identification of depression symptoms before they take a more severe form is essential to seek treatment in a timely manner.
Why is depression in women so common? What are the mental health conditions to look out for in such cases? And most importantly, what are some of the depression symptoms in women and how to recognize them?
We try to answer these pertinent questions and many others.
What is Depression?
First things first, let’s understand what exactly depression is. Depression is the commonly used name for major depressive disorder.
It is largely a mood disorder that leads to losing interest in regular activities and behavioural changes.
Though the experience of depression differs from person to person, a depressed mood is a sense of hopelessness, frustration, anxiety and loss of pleasure gained from liked activities.
While these moods might not seem unusual when occurring once in a while, their becoming a normal reaction to most situations might prove to be a problem with time.
Also, like any physical disorder, depression is not something one gets over merely by choice. Treating this mental disorder requires a combination of talk therapy and antidepressant medications, along with all possible emotional support.
Why do Women Suffer from Depression?
Major depression, in general, is a result of biological factors and life experiences. Several stressful life events in a woman’s life might lead to them developing depression as every phase in a woman’s life brings its own set of challenges.
Let’s look at some common factors that lead to women developing this mental disorder.
1. Menstrual Cycle-Related Problems
The menarche is an important stage in every woman’s life. As much as it marks the advent of womanhood and new beginnings, it cannot be denied that it is also a stage of great mental turmoil.
Periods also bring along with them premenstrual syndrome or PMS. The activity of reproductive hormones during this phase results in physical and emotional symptoms. Perimenopausal depression is also quite common.
The premenstrual dysphoric disorder has more severe symptoms than PMS and might cause debilitating mood swings.
Depression is a mood disorder; extreme mood swings for any reason might be a major trigger.
Due to this, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and other period-related problems can develop other depressive symptoms and, ultimately, more severe depression in women.
2. Postpartum Depression
The process of childbirth is a taxing one, both physically and mentally. Coping with childbirth’s bodily and lifestyle changes might cause postpartum depression in women, commonly known as baby blues.
Postpartum depression might cause low self-esteem and negative feelings toward one’s body. Apart from this, anxiety, fatigue, and sudden bouts of irritability are also common.
While baby blues is not a chronic illness, postpartum depression is accompanied by more severe symptoms. Women suffering from postpartum depression should try to seek emotional support. Therapy and antidepressants go a long way in quickening the healing process.
3. Physical or Sexual Abuse
Physical abuse is a highly traumatic experience. It does not just shatter the victim but also their family.
Victims of sexual abuse find it difficult to cope with their reality. The trauma takes a heavy toll on their mental health.
It is common for such victims to have suicidal thoughts. Therefore, the lack of adequate sensitivity and support from family members might prove catastrophic.
4. Biological Factors
Depression might also depend on genes. Individuals with a family history of depression are more prone to this mental illness. The interaction of this genetic factor with external ones makes up one’s resilience.
While a healthy environment and social relationships make an individual more resilient, their absence leads to an increased risk of depression.
Hormonal factors might also cause depression in women. Constant hormone fluctuations lead to mood swings. If not identified timely, these might take a more severe form and result in depression and other mood disorders.
5. Psychological Factors
Psychological factors affect women and make them more vulnerable to depression than men. According to studies, negative thoughts adversely impact women’s mental health as they tend to be more emotional.
While facing negative thoughts, men try to avoid them by engaging themselves in other activities. However, women generally choose to ponder upon their depressive symptoms and discuss them with close ones. This only results in prolonging the depressed mood.
But there must surely be some reason behind this distinction between men and women? Well, there is. If the progesterone levels in a woman are high, it makes it difficult for the stress hormones to balance out. Thus, women are more prone to stress.
6. Environmental Factors
Not just the factors within but the external environment and life events also lead to women experiencing depression.
In today’s world, having a busy lifestyle is nothing uncommon. It is quite necessary. Stress from work, relationship stress, and overworking are some factors that might lead to depression in women.
Individuals often turn to various kinds of escapes from their busy lives, which might even be harmful. One of them is substance abuse. But we should remember that such harmful escapes only worsen depression.
Depression Symptoms in Women
As a layperson, it is neither feasible nor ethical for us to diagnose or treat depression. A mental health professional can only make a proper diagnosis of major depression (or any other mental disorder, for that matter).
Mental disorders can only be diagnosed according to the guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association given in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
But we should also remember that untreated depression can cause great harm. Therefore, it is wise to keep looking for the early signs and symptoms that might morph into something severe if left untreated.
Here are some symptoms that can tell you if you need the intervention of mental health counsellors.
- Physical symptoms include sudden weight loss, chronic pain, and digestive problems.
- Constant lack of energy and feeling of fatigue and exhaustion.
- Feelings of despair, hopelessness, guilt and irritability.
- Changes in diet and sleep cycles.
- Suicidal thoughts or the wish to attempt suicide.
- Loss of interest in regular activities, even the ones that bring pleasure.
- Difficulty in paying attention and remembering details.
Related Mental Disorders
If left untreated, a case of major depression can get more complicated and give way to various other mental illnesses. Some of these mental illnesses might affect a patient with depression.
Other Mood Disorders
Major depression is a mood disorder. Another form of depression is manic depression or bipolar disorder, which causes the patient to shift from manic to depressive states.
A less severe version of manic depression is cyclothymic disorder. This also causes extreme mood changes in the patient.
Let’s address this. The feeling of anxiety is not something unnatural. It is, in fact, necessary in times of danger.
However, an anxiety disorder causes an individual to feel overwhelmingly anxious to such an extent that it causes hindrances in daily life.
Panic disorder is one of the most common disorders that accompanies cases of depression in women.
A panic attack involves a sudden (often irrational) bout of fear. Excessive sweating, chest pain, freezing on the spot, increased heart rate, and breathlessness or choking are some panic attack symptoms.
Treating Depression in Women
Depression can only be diagnosed and treated by a mental health professional. So after identifying symptoms, the next step is to seek professional help.
The treatment can begin only when the disorder is diagnosed by a professional. A professional diagnoses the condition by taking into account all the relevant factors. You might be asked several questions, and your accurate replies will help better diagnose and treat.
Depression treatment involves a combination of antidepressants and therapy. Antidepressants are certain medications that relieve symptoms. However, these medications have side effects that should be duly noted.
Sleep disturbance, restlessness, sexual problems, and nausea are common side effects. It is imperative to check the dosage, intake and side effects of such medications to avoid extra complications.
Along with medications for symptomatic relief, talk therapy goes a long way in curbing the long-term impacts of depression in women and greatly helps the overall process of healing and mental health.
One of the common forms of talk therapy used in the treatment of depression is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT.
This form of therapy aims to identify flawed and harmful thinking patterns and alter them. This helps the patient to cope with the negative thoughts better.
Cognitive behavioural therapy provides a better understanding of relationships and habits responsible for depressing thoughts. Once identified and understood, overcoming such habits hinders the healing process becomes easier.
In several cases, not just the individual suffering from depression but also the people around them require to undergo therapy sessions.
Family therapy is used when family and related factors become an inevitable cause of depression in women.
It becomes paramount when administering therapy to the patient alone does not improve their mental health.
The patient’s family needs to be explained about the patient’s mental state and what they can do for its betterment. Support from the people the individual lives with is important in such sensitive cases.
Now that we know about antidepressants and therapy, is there something more we can do to ensure better healing? Well, yes. There are several things you can do by yourself to uplift your mood.
One major symptom of depression involves random spells of sadness and despair. Try to pick up an activity you like when such feelings strike. From painting to taking a walk, it can be anything that makes you feel good.
A healthy lifestyle is indispensable. Make sure you eat healthily, sleep well, and exercise regularly; a healthy body is a healthy mind!
Avoid bottling feelings. Talk to your loved ones about what’s bothering you and seek their support. Have a trusted group of individuals you can rely upon in times of need.
It is not always an easy task to explain or understand your feelings when in a depressed mood. This might lead one to feel restless and all over the place.
Meditation, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques can help with this. Such techniques help with the restless feeling and make you feel in control of your emotions.
The Bottom Line
Despite all the growing awareness about mental health in the current times, we still have a long way to go as far as the aspect of seeking help is concerned.
While, on the one hand, depression in women is wrongly diagnosed in many cases, a lot of women who experience extreme symptoms do not seek proper help.
But if rightly diagnosed and treated, depression in women can be cured in most cases with the help of the correct techniques.
Let us know other helpful information we have missed out on that might help us know more about depression. Share this article with your friends and take a step towards healing.