I learned that more women are prone to depression than men and the causes of female depression and the pattern of symptoms are often different.
- Depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness and worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts or recurrent thoughts of death
- Sleep disturbance (sleeping more or sleeping less)
- Appetite and weight changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of energy and fatigue
Although the signs and symptoms of depression are the same for both men and women, women tend to experience certain symptoms more often than men. For example, seasonal affective disorder—depression in the winter months due to lower levels of sunlight—is more common in women. Also, women are more likely to experience the symptoms of atypical depression.
In atypical depression, rather than sleeping less, eating less, and losing weight, the opposite is seen: sleeping excessively, eating more (especially carbohydrates), and gaining weight. Feelings of guilt associated with depression are also more prevalent and pronounced in women. Women also have a higher incidence of thyroid problems. Since hypothyroidism can cause depression, this medical problem should always be ruled out by a physician in women who are depressed.
I always wondered what factors contribute to depression. The factors which account for the higher incidence of depression among women are biological, psychological, and social. I have heard of women suffering from postpartem depression and I worried that I would suffer from it. I can understand how high risk pregnancies, infertility, miscarriages and unwanted pregnancies could cause depression but I never knew about premenstrual syndrome.
I am dreading menopause and the hot flashes that come with it and it doesn’t help to know that many women in perimenopause and menopause feel depressed and irritable. Some researchers believe that the decrease in estrogen triggers changes in your brain, causing depression (http://womenshealth.about.com/od/menopause/f/depressionmenop.htm).
I have can relate to these other causes that affect women.
- Role strain – Women often suffer from role strain over conflicting and overwhelming responsibilities in their life. The more roles a woman is expected to play (mother, wife, working woman), the more vulnerable she is to role strain and subsequent stress and depression. Depression is more common in women who receive little help with housework and child care. Single mothers are particularly at risk. Research indicates that single mothers are three times more likely than married mothers to experience an episode of major depression. There are times when I feel overwhelmed and I just want to get away for a while.
- Unequal power and status – Women’s relative lack of power and status in our society may lead to feelings of helplessness. This sense of helplessness puts women at greater risk for depression. These feelings may be provoked by discrimination in the workplace leading to underemployment or unemployment. Low socioeconomic status is a risk factor for major depression. Another contributing factor is society’s emphasis on youth, beauty, and thinness in women, traits which to a large extent are out of their control. I have read of how women’s rights in certain countries are non-existent. Just recently I read that in Guatemala, the law protects the men and not the women and women are being killed indiscriminately there. In Egypt women are constantly harrassed.
- Sexual and physical abuse – Sexual and physical abuse may play a role in depression in women. Girls are much more likely to be sexually abused than boys, and researchers have found that sexual abuse in childhood puts one at increased risk for depression in adulthood. Higher rates of depression are also found among victims of rape, a crime almost exclusively committed against women. Other common forms of abuse, including physical abuse and sexual harassment, may also contribute to depression. I have heard of girls who overeat just so they won’t be sexually abused. I can understand how abuse could lead to depression. The victim feels helpless and alone and not sure who she could trust or has been told that no one would believe her or worst–threatened if she said anything.
- Relationship dissatisfaction – While rates of depression are lower for the married than for the single and divorced, the benefits of marriage and its general contribution to well-being are greater for men than for women. Furthermore, the benefits disappear entirely for women whose marital satisfaction is low. Lack of intimacy and marital strife are linked to depression in women. It’s hard when you are in a marriage and the intimacy is not there. It’s harder when you have invested everything in your relationship–to the point where you don’t have as much time for your other family members or friends. Everything is invested in your husband.
- Poverty – Poverty is more common among women than men. Single mothers have the highest rates of poverty across all demographic groups. Poverty is a severe, chronic stressor than can lead to depression. I learnt about this some time ago. The woman has to struggle to support herself and her family. In countries where women are uneducated, it’s really hard. I would be depressed too if I had to worry about where I would get the next meal to feed my family.
Stress can be another factor. And since a woman’s image of her body is closely linked to her self-esteem-if a woman feels badly or dissatified about her body, this could be a a risk factor for depression.
Depression can be treated with counselling but here are some do’s and don’ts for when you are depressed:
- Don’t isolate yourself. Stay in touch with your loved ones and friends, your religious advisor and your family doctor.
- Don’t make major life decisions (for example, about separation or divorce). You may not be thinking clearly while you are depressed, so the decisions you make at this time may not be the best ones for you.
- Don’t blame yourself for your depression. You didn’t cause it.
- Don’t be discouraged about not feeling well right away. Be patient with yourself.
- Don’t give up.
- Do exercise often to make yourself feel better. Exercise will also give you more energy.
- Do eat balanced meals and healthy food.
- Do get enough sleep.
- Do take your medicine and/or go to counseling as often as your doctor tells you to. Your medicine won’t work if you only take it once in a while.
- Do set small goals for yourself, because you may have less energy.
- Do encourage yourself.
- Do get as much information as you can about depression and how to treat it.
- Do call your doctor or the local suicide crisis center right away if you start thinking about suicide.
I hope you know that you are not alone and that you can overcome this once you get the help you need.