According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 20 million Americans each year have a mental illness. These include major depressive disorder (MDD) and dysthymia, both considered forms of clinical depression.
While some people experience depression throughout their lives, others develop symptoms later in life, and this is especially true for women who tend to experience depression earlier than men.
Because women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, they often don't seek treatment due to the belief their symptoms are typical, or they should get over it.
We asked a psychologist who has treated women with depression for many years to share some essential facts on this matter.
While the exact causes of depression remain unknown, gender distinctions between males and females play a role in why some women develop depression earlier than men.
Women are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression because of their unique social and hormonal characteristics.
What are the early signs of depression in females?
The signs of depression are often subtle and complex to recognise in women due to cultural norms and societal expectations. Depression is common in young girls and women because they face challenges such as body image issues, social isolation, or academic stress.
Many women don't recognise key signs of depression, making it harder to get timely support. Depression can improve with the proper treatment, including therapy, medication, or both.
One noteworthy misbelief about depression is that it's a "normal part of being a woman." This notion may be rooted in the fact that depression commonly affects women.
Approximately one in eight American women will develop clinical depression during their lifetime. Moreover, women are almost twice as likely as men to experience symptoms of depression, which may be due to certain societal, hormonal, and biological factors unique to women.
Women often face extraordinary challenges, such as dealing with pregnancy or childbirth and balancing work and family responsibilities. These issues contribute to women's anxiety, stress, and depression rates.
Women who experience depression also tend to exhibit specific behavioural changes, such as decreased appetite, fatigue, sleep disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, diminished ability to concentrate, and suicidal ideation.
Here are six things that women living with depression need to know.
1. The key signs aren't always obvious
Some symptoms of depression in women are easier to spot — like changes in appetite or sleeping habits, irritability, or feelings of hopelessness.
However, your loved ones may brush this off or fail to notice other crucial symptoms.
These symptoms include:
Anhedonia: This symptom refers to an inability to get enjoyment from activities that previously interested or inspired you. Given that many women toil with feeling exhausted and overworked, this meaningful sign of depression is often confused with burnout or lack of sleep.
Diminished interest in sexual activity: Low libido can relate to natural hormonal fluctuations, exhaustion, or stress, but it can also be a sign of depression.
Drinking extensively: Increased substance use can be both a cause and a coping mechanism for depression. A recent study found that even moderate levels of alcohol intake can increase depressive feelings and worsen existing conditions.
Often people drink to forget their troubles or deal with stress, and drinking in excess can offer a way to mask or numb unwanted emotions. Plus, since society normalises indulging in alcohol while socialising or relaxing, you may not immediately recognise when your drinking habits have changed.
Isolation: Both extroverts and introverts with depression may avoid even minor social engagements and start pursuing more solo activities, like watching TV alone instead of participating in your weekly film night with friends.
Although it's normal and healthy to reduce activities when rejuvenating time is needed, many women don't realise that depression may manifest through a gradual or sudden shift in the desire to engage with others.
Retail therapy: A 2015 study found making shopping choices can help alleviate sadness by restoring a sense of personal control over your environment.
With the feel-good hormone dopamine released when you purchase an item, some women with depression may engage in compulsive shopping to lift their mood.
Shopping shifts from being therapeutic to a problematic compulsive behaviour when it becomes a go-to way of dealing with anxiety, stress or loss and when it’s hard to control.
2. It won't necessarily derail your life completely
Many individuals assume that women who are depressed languish in bed or are mainly unproductive.
Many women have "high-functioning depression," which can be more tricky to recognise. You can have depression, even if you can still perform at your job, take care of your kids, or put on a fake smile at social events.
Many women with depression intentionally wear a mask of cheerfulness and remain very busy.
3. Depression triggers may relate to your circumstances
While depression doesn't always have a specific cause, a wide range of cases, physical, emotional, social, societal, or working in a stressful environment, may trigger depression in women.
For example, women are more likely to live in poverty, which can cause apprehension, lack of control, and low self-esteem that contribute to depression.
The following are the most typical triggers of depression in women include:
Unresolved trauma, such as sexual abuse, childhood abuse, domestic abuse
Stress, especially for single mothers and women working multiple jobs or caring for ill family members
Political issues, such as changing abortion rulings or the threat of war
Environmental concerns, such as climate change or natural disasters
Ongoing health issues
Social isolation or lack of friendships
"Empty-nesting," or adjusting to life at home after kids move out
Excessive social media use
4. Depression can set in during certain life stages
Certain types of depression can occur at different stages of your life, often in response to specific physical changes.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
It's common to experience some sadness and even crying spells in the week or two leading up to your period as part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
But between 5% and 10% of people who menstruate experience a more severe form known as a premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which can cause a more severe depressed mood, feelings of despair, and suicidal thoughts.
Uncomfortable bodily changes, hormonal shifts, and intense planning that come with pregnancy can be overwhelming for expecting mothers — particularly if you add in relationship issues, work changes, a lack of social support, or other life stressors.
Prenatal depression affects women right before having a child, but it can occur at any point during pregnancy and make it challenging to care for yourself or others.
Most maternal-mortality statistics exclude suicide and self-harm
The US has the highest maternal-mortality rate of any developed country. And that rate is climbing, with women of colour severely disproportionately affected.
In Colorado, for instance, roughly 26 maternal deaths a year were recorded from 2008 to 2017, eight of which were attributed to self-harm.
Self-care is vital during pregnancy
Finding a support network for expecting parents and asking your doctor for treatment recommendations can help you manage and cope with symptoms of prenatal depression.
Roughly one in seven women develops postpartum depression (PPD), which tends to last longer than prenatal depression and involves more severe symptoms, from guilt or low self-esteem about your capabilities to suicidal thoughts.
Postpartum depression often goes undiagnosed because many women don't want to disclose their depression to family members due to stigma and a general fear of abandonment or losing support. But without treatment, symptoms may worsen and affect your bond with your baby.
Risk factors for postpartum depression include:
1. A personal or family history of mood and anxiety disorders
2. Infant or childbirth complications
3. Lack of social support
Perimenopause, the transition into menopause, is when hormone levels tend to fluctuate the most. Many women are undergoing perimenopause experience rapid mood changes, depression, and anxiety.
You're more likely to experience perimenopausal depression if you go through menopause at a younger age or if your ovaries are surgically extracted.
5. Changing habits that fuel depression can be difficult
The main challenges in helping women with depression relate to changing their habits perpetuating their depression, and this is because depression can negatively affect your energy and motivation.
While a woman with depression may want to heal, it's often tough for her to find the energy and drive to embrace mood-boosting habits, and may understand exactly what would help her manage her depression — like leaving a toxic workplace or even exercising more — but such chores often feel overwhelming.
Anxiety or fear can also play a role in keeping women stuck.
For example, a woman may realise her relationship with a difficult or abusive partner lies at the root of her depression, but hesitates to leave the relationship due to fear of change or loneliness.
Other reasons for staying in an abusive relationship might include the following:
- Financial insecurity
- Dependence on a partner due to a physical disability
- Concerns about keeping the family unit together
Other conditions that occur with depression
Women with depression often have other mental health conditions that need treatment as well, such as:
- Anxiety: Anxiety commonly occurs along with depression in women.
- Eating disorders: There's a strong link between depression in women and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
- Drug or alcohol misuse: Some women with depression also have some form of unhealthy substance use or dependence. Substance misuse can worsen depression and make it harder to treat.
6. Depression is highly treatable
The best piece of advice for women who have or believe they may have depression is to seek advice from your family medical Practitioner and find support from a licensed therapist.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy is a type of talk therapy that is considered the current gold-standard in psychotherapy for treating depression.
Additionally, finding a local support group for women with depression. Support groups not only provide a safe space to share your emotional experiences, but they can also serve as an important reminder that you aren't alone.
But when it comes to antidepressants, managing your expectations:
These medications may ease depression, but they likely won't erase it. They typically take weeks to start working.
For example, if depression feels like a 100-pound weight on your shoulders, taking an antidepressant may make the weight feel more like a 60-pound weight.
Other treatments include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for those who don't respond well to medications or psychotherapy.
Depression is more common in women due to biological factors and societal issues.
Significant events like pregnancy, divorce, menopause, or the death of a loved one can all trigger depression. Still, this mental health condition can also stem from other everyday life stressors or happen without a specific trigger.
Women tend to experience higher rates of depression during pregnancy and postpartum epochs, and are more vulnerable to developing depression after childbirth.
The severity and symptoms of depression can range widely from person to person, and some signs — like drinking a little more alcohol, spending more money, or seeking out more alone time — make it easy to miss these vital clues.
Remember that you are not broken if you struggle with depression. Many people have toiled with this and successfully overcome or learned to manage the Black dog. So, don't give up — because depression is a mental health issue that can be treated.
Lifeline in times of mental distress.
988 is the new number for the suicide and crisis hotline in the USA
Calls and texts to 988 will be directed to the existing network, which can also be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
Trained employees and volunteers are prepared to respond to a range of mental health crises. People can call to talk through trauma, suicidal ideation, self-harm, addiction, or general emotional distress.
Text "SHOUT" to 85258 for free from all major UK mobile networks. You'll then be connected to a volunteer for an anonymous conversation by text message.
This free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging mental health support service is run by a charity called Mental Health Innovations.