Women and Depression

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Did you know that women are almost two times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men? Why is this gender gap in the prevalence of depression? Why are women more likely than men to face clinical depression during their lifetime? While there’s no single reason, researchers believe there are several different factors including psychological, hormonal, genetic, biological, and social factors.

It is interesting to note that before adolescence, the rates of depression are about the same among girls and boys. Between the ages of eleven and thirteen there is a dramatic rise in the prevalence of depression in girls. By the age of fifteen females are twice as likely as males to suffer from depression.

It is also interesting to note that this increased risk for depression persists beyond puberty. A woman remains at higher risk for depressive illness than a man throughout her entire adult life.

Perhaps it is the biology of women that is responsible for this increased propensity to get depressed. However, there are psychological and social reasons too.

Every month a woman  is exposed to rising and then falling levels of  hormones. This generally causes mood swings. Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can cause the familiar symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as bloating, irritability, fatigue, and emotional reactivity. For many women, PMS is mild but for some women, symptoms are more severe and disabling.

During pregnancy and after delivery, there are greater shifts in this reproductive hormonal environment.  It's not uncommon for new mothers to experience the "baby blues." This is a normal reaction that tends to subside within a few weeks. However, some women experience severe, lasting depression. This condition is called postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is believed to be influenced, at least in part, by hormonal fluctuations. The hormone changes during menopause can also trigger depression.

Clinical depression is more than just exaggerated moodiness on the part of the woman. It is supposed that the recurrent hormonal shifts makes the brain more susceptible for depression in some women. An added factor is that women are also more susceptible to hypothyroidism and hypothyroidism can also cause depression.

Psychologically speaking, women are more likely to be self critical, be more sensitive to rejection and criticism, more likely to feel they have less control of what happens to them. They tend to experience feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.

Women are more likely to keep on and on thinking when they have a problem. They may feel sad and apathetic. They may worry incessantly.  They may indulge in feelings of guilt and self reproach over real and imagined issues. All this tends to gravitate them towards anxiety attacks and depression.

Women are generally more emotionally invested in relationships than men. Relationship problems are likely to affect them more, so they are more likely to develop depression.

Body image issues. A dissatisfaction with a real or imagined body issue is often the trigger for depression in young adolescent girls and even later.

Social factors are also important in women's depression. Women are expected to be more supportive and helpful to others, and generally to take care of husband, children and extended family. Women in general are taken for granted, undervalued and unappreciated for all that they do.

Many women manage to cope with playing the various roles of homemaker, and career woman. However, for some, the physical and psychological demands of living up to so many roles can be exhausting and overwhelm them.

At work women are paid less than their male counterparts and are more likely to be physically or sexually abused. Experiencing discrimination at work or not reaching important goals, losing or changing a job, retirement, or being posted away from family can all cause stress.

Stress can also be triggered by problematic life events and external factors like housing, personal relationships, medical, safety and financial issues. These external stressors may often bring about an onset of depression.

Health problems such as chronic illness, injury, or disability can lead to depression in women, as can crash dieting or quitting smoking. Issues relating to menstruation, to pregnancy such as miscarriage, unwanted pregnancy, and infertility can also play a role in depression.

The death of a loved one or other stressful life event that leaves one feeling useless, helpless, alone, or profoundly sad are usually the cause of depressions in the elderly as women usually outlive their male partners.

The symptoms of depression vary from mild to severe or major depression. The symptoms generally include a low or depressed  mood, a lack of energy or fatigue, an inability to enjoy the things one used to earlier, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, changes in appetite,  weight gain, insomnia or sleeping more, difficulty concentrating and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Women also tend to get seasonal affective disorder – depression in the winter months due to lower levels of sunlight. Also, women are more likely to experience the symptoms of atypical depression.

In atypical depression, the symptoms are  sleeping excessively, eating more (especially carbohydrates), and gaining weight.

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