Depression is a serious mental health disorder affecting more than 300 million people around the globe (World Health Organization). Depression can interfere with your ability to maintain relationships, sleep, eat, work, and enjoy life, and too often, people suffer from the effects of this mental health disorder for far too long due to fears of societal judgment. Thankfully, over the last few years, more and more courageous men and women have been coming forward to discuss their battles with depression in the hopes of helping others. Whether on social media, advocacy platforms, or blogs, people from all walks of life and social status have been bravely sharing their stories in hopes of destigmatizing depression and its debilitating effects. However, there is still a great deal of work to do, especially when it comes to understanding women and depression.
Since depression is more common among women than men, and women are about twice as likely as men to develop major depression, it only makes sense to try and understand the reasons behind the gender gap. The following are key risk factors for depression in women you need to know:
Though hormones do not cause depression, researchers believe that hormonal changes, at different stages, can increase a woman’s risk of developing depression. Puberty, pregnancy, menstrual cycle, and perimenopause are all associated with significant hormonal changes, and according to the Mayo Clinic, these fluctuations can lead to depression – here’s how:
Hormone changes during puberty may increase some girls’ risk of developing depression. Puberty is often found in connection with other experiences that can lead to depression, such as identity issues, bullying, sexuality, and school/sports pressures.
Before a woman begins her menstrual cycle, PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, often occurs and is known to cause feelings of lethargy, breast tenderness, and irritability. However, there is a more severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a serious condition with disabling symptoms such as depressed mood, sadness, suicidal thoughts, and joint or muscle pain.
Perinatal depression is depression that occurs during or after pregnancy (postpartum). This type of depression is much more severe than the “baby blues” or feelings of worry, fatigue, and mood swings that often accompany the different stages of pregnancy. Instead, feelings of sadness, anxiety, exhaustion, and even suicidal thoughts are extreme making it difficult for new mothers to function daily or adequately care for her baby.
Perimenopause (the transition leading to menopause) is a normal phase in a woman’s life and often includes abnormal periods, sleeping issues, mild mood swings, and hot flashes. But what is not normal is to feel depressed during this hormonal shift – also known as perimenopausal depression. Feelings of intense anxiety, sadness, or depressed mood can occur during perimenopause, and you need to let your healthcare provider know your symptoms to receive treatment.
Many women suffering from depression do not get the proper treatment they need and turn to substance use to ease their symptoms. A recent study published in Psychiatric Services In Advance (2019) revealed, “Half of all pregnant women who experience depression do not get any treatment, and some may turn to alcohol, marijuana, and opioids to self-medicate.” The study compared responses for pregnant and nonpregnant women, all of whom had an episode of major depression. The results found 51 percent of pregnant women and 43 percent of nonpregnant women did not get any treatment for depression. Substance misuse can worsen depression and make it harder to treat, causing a vicious cycle of dependence.
According to Harvard Health, “Studies in identical twins, who share the same genes, suggest that heredity may account for about 40% of the risk for major depression and certain genetic mutations associated with the development of severe depression occur only in women.” Depression is not inherited, but women have a combination of genes from their mother and father that can predispose them to depression.
The Mayo Clinic reported, “community surveys find that women are more likely than men to say they are under stress. Other studies suggest that women are more likely than men to become depressed in response to a stressful event.” Unfortunately, women are also more likely to experience severe trauma, such as sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, and domestic violence. These traumatic experiences have a lasting effect on the brain and often lead to depression. Additionally, women are on average poorer than men, especially single mothers with young children, who have a particularly high rate of depression.
Although depression may seem overwhelming, there’s an effective treatment out there that you haven’t tried. Seek help if you have any signs and symptoms of depression, such as:
When it comes to treating co-occurring disorders, it’s most important to help the individual find ways to combat depressive feelings without relying on substances. At The Kimberly Center, we teach holistic methods of addiction and mental health management that provide long-lasting solutions. If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, and has either been diagnosed with depression or is exhibiting symptoms, we encourage you to reach out to us today at 855-452-3683 to find out what we can do to help you overcome co-occurring disorders. There is hope and help in treatment.