Women and Depression: Understanding the Gender Gap
Everyone feels worried, anxious, or sad from time to time. But when a woman has a true mental health disorder, including depression, she finds it hard to function normally.
Cultural, biological, and social factors influence the role of women in society. Expectations within these frameworks may raise the risk for depression. Stress also raises the risk for depression. When a woman feels she can't function within the established norm, she may develop symptoms of depression.
Variety of stressors
Stressors often include conflicting responsibilities at work and home, as well as caring for children and aging parents.
Still, research indicates depression can be caused by a variety of factors:
Genetics. You have a greater risk of developing depression if you have a family history of the illness. Not everybody with a family history of the condition develops depression, though. Depression can occur in people who have no family members with the illness.
Brain chemistry. People with depression usually have an imbalance in certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Environment and stress. The death of a loved one, abusive relationships, financial problems, or a major life change can contribute to depression. Sometimes depression begins at the same time as a physical illness.
Mental characteristics. Women are more likely to be depressed if they are pessimistic, worry excessively, have low self-esteem, or feel they have little control over their lives.
Adolescence. Before adolescence, boys and girls have the same rate of depression. Between ages 11 and 13, however, depression rates for girls increase dramatically. By age 15, girls are twice as likely to have suffered from depression as boys.
Signs of depression
Having symptoms of depression doesn’t mean you are depressed.
But if several of the following behaviors or feelings continue for at least 2 weeks, talk with your health care provider:
Sadness or anxiety that lingers
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
Restlessness, irritability, or crying
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness
Needing too much or too little sleep, early-morning awakening
Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling “slowed down”
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
These are treatment steps that lead to healing:
Recognize the symptoms of depression.
Seek help from your health care provider or a mental health professional.
Agree to and stick with a treatment plan. Common treatments for depression are antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.
Seeking help for depression is the first step in controlling the symptoms that take pleasure out of life. Talk with your provider about working with the treatment plan and reporting your response to the treatments. Response rates to treatment are high, and you can feel better.