Depression in Women
Causes and Risk Factors for Depression
There is no single cause of depression in women. In fact, research scientists continue to search for the exact cause or causes. They do, however, know of a number of risk factors that increase a woman's chances of developing depression. Some risk factors include:
- Hormonal factors, including menstrual cycle changes, pregnancy, miscarriage, the postpartum period, perimenopause, and menopause
- Stress, including stress at work and home, as well as stress brought on by single parenthood or caring for aging parents
- Family history of depression, although it can also occur in people with no family history
- Chemical imbalance, or changes in the brain chemistry.
A recent study showed that in the case of severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS), women with a pre-existing vulnerability to PMS experienced relief from mood and physical symptoms when their sex hormones were suppressed. Shortly after the hormones were reintroduced, they again developed symptoms of PMS. Women without a history of PMS reported no effects of the hormonal manipulation.
Signs of Depression in Women
Not all women with depression have the same symptoms. Some women might have only a few symptoms, while others may have several. If you have one or more of the following symptoms of depression for more than two weeks or months at a time, see your healthcare provider. Some possible depression symptoms include:
- Feeling sad, anxious, or "empty"
- Feeling hopeless
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy
- Difficulty staying focused, remembering, or making decisions
- Sleeplessness, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping and not wanting to get up
- Lack of desire to eat and weight loss, or eating to "feel better" and weight gain
- Thoughts of hurting yourself
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Being easily annoyed, bothered, or angered
- Constant physical symptoms that do not get better with treatment, such as headaches, upset stomach, and pain that does not go away.
Keep in mind that having some symptoms of depression does not mean a woman is clinically depressed. For example, it is not unusual for those who have lost a loved one to feel sad, helpless, and disinterested in regular activities. Only when these symptoms persist for an unusually long time is there reason to suspect that grief has become depressive illness.
Similarly, living with the stress of potential layoffs, heavy workloads, or financial or family problems may cause irritability and "the blues." Up to a point, such feelings are simply a part of human experience. But when these feelings increase in duration and intensity and an individual is unable to function as usual, what seemed to be a temporary mood may have become a clinical illness. That is why if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, you should talk with your healthcare provider.