Women are a high risk group for clinical depression. Twice as many women as men are diagnosed with depression, although the exact reason for this discrepancy is unclear. It’s possible that social conditioning makes women dealing with depression more likely to seek medical assistance than men. Hormonal differences between the sexes may also play a role.
Female and Male Depression
Until puberty, female and male depression rates have a 1:1 ratio. Boys are as likely to experience symptoms of depression as girls. By adolescence, however, the ratio changes to 2:1 and remains so throughout life.
Hormones are known to affect behavior and mood in both men and women. Hormonal changes over women’s lifetimes are generally more intense that those of men. Menstruation, pregnancy and menopause all have a significant effect on female hormones. Some research suggests hormonal changes at puberty make women more susceptible to depression than men.
Women, Depression and Symptoms
Women and men tend to report different symptoms of depression. Men report increased irritability, sleep problems and loss of enjoyment in pleasurable activities. Women tend to report feelings of guilt, sadness, worthlessness and fatigue. This does not necessarily mean symptoms of depression in women differ from those seen in men; only that men and women tend to focus on different aspects of depression.
Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression
The months after childbirth are extremely stressful. In addition to caring for a newborn, a mother’s body undergoes significant hormonal changes as it adjusts to no longer being pregnant. Many women experience a period of sadness and mood changes commonly called the baby blues. Symptoms of the baby blues usually diminish over time.
For some women, however, baby blues symptoms increase in severity into full-blown depression. Postpartum depression can occur for several months after childbirth. The risk of postpartum depression is higher in women who experienced depressive episodes prior to (or during) pregnancy.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a depressive illness that affects some women in the week before menstruation. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (or PMDD) causes symptoms of depression including anxiety and irritability. PMDD is more than “just” PMS – symptoms are severe enough to prevent women from functioning normally.
Menopause and Depression
Menopause marks another major hormonal change in a woman’s life. Some women may experience depression as they enter menopause. Post-menopausal women, however, experience less depressive episodes.
Women, Stress and Symptoms of Depression
Both men and women experience stress, but some studies indicate that women respond to stress in ways that make them more susceptible to depression than men. Women, according to this research, have feel the effects of stress over longer time periods, which may raise the risk of depression.
It’s worth noting here that, interesting though such studies are, they deal in generalities. Everyone has a unique response to stress that affects their risk of depression either positively or negatively.
Women, Depression and Treatment
Women and men respond to the same depression treatments, with some differences. Women, for instance, tend to be more willing to engage in group therapy than men, possibly due to societal views on communication and male stoicism.
Pregnant women should consult their doctors before taking antidepressants, as some depression medication can cause birth defects. Postpartum depression treatment with antidepressants must also be handled carefully if the mother is breastfeeding, as depression medication can pass to the baby through breast milk.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is treated in much the same way as clinical depression, although PMDD may also be treated with nutritional or hormone therapy.
Many women who experience symptoms of depression never get the help they need. Those that do receive medical care usually find dealing with depression becomes much easier.