According to the statistics provided by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the prevalence of depression is approximately two to three times greater among women than men. This totals to around 10.4% of adult women and 5.5% of adult men in the US suffering from one form of major depressive disorder.
Major Depressive Disorder is a common but serious mood disorder in women. Also known as clinical depression or simply depression, it is a debilitating condition characterized by excessively demoralizing and sad thoughts and feelings. According to the DSM-5 manual, a person is diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder if they experience the following:
A period of at least two weeks when a person experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities and had a majority of specified symptoms, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, or self-worth.DSM-5 Manual
Contributing Factors of Major Depressive Disorder Among Women
Factors contributing to the onset of depression include genetics, stressful situations, traumatic childhood experiences, medical conditions, hormonal imbalances, and more. Some factors can be unique only to women, hence the higher rate of depression. These include:
Owing to various studies, researchers have substantial reason to believe that the risk of developing depression rises with the onset of puberty among girls, whereas, in adolescence, the rates of depression are comparatively similar among boys and girls. Scientists believe hormonal changes, imbalances, and fluctuations are possible triggers for clinical depression among girls.
The onset of depression during puberty among women is linked to the added pressure and stress of acknowledging and accepting biological, emotional, and sexual changes. With puberty also comes to a shift in roles, responsibilities, and expectations, making it a pivotal phase of development. This functions as a newfound stressor that young girls find difficult to deal with, resulting in stress, anxiety, and depression.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual syndrome is usually normal and is marked by an alteration in mood. Physical symptoms like bloating, aches, breast tenderness, etc. accompany emotional symptoms like irritability, anger, and anxiety. For some women, PMS can increase in severity and present debilitating symptoms that may hinder daily life. This condition is known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
PMDD is a form of depression that can be disabling and usually requires treatment. Studies have shown that symptoms of PMDD can be extremely serious to the point some women report feeling suicidal.
Pregnancy & Postpartum Depression (PPD)
For expecting or new moms, the added responsibility of a child, while bringing joy and excitement, also brings a lot of stress and anxiety in their lives. Baby blues — symptoms include; crying spells, mood swings, insomnia, etc. — are common among new mothers who are navigating their way through this new role. However, for some women, instead of resolving with some emotional support, it can transform into a severe form of depression known as postpartum depression.
PPD is a serious condition leading to severe anxiety, numbness, insomnia, inability to care for the newborn child, contemplating suicide, or harming the baby. In such cases, treatment becomes necessary.
The transition to menopause can cause severe mood alterations, owing to the erratic changes in hormone production within the female body. With estrogen and progesterone levels declining drastically, the risk of developing depression increases substantially during perimenopause and early menopause.
While this may trigger depressive episodes among some women, most women can deal with it fairly easily. For some, it merely increases the likelihood of developing depression. This is especially applicable to women who may have suffered a major depressive disorder in their life in the past.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Depression presents with several signs and symptoms that people often tend to disregard as being moody. However, identification is very important in order to get proper treatment. Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder include:
- Excessive feelings of loss, guilt, sadness, and grief over an extensive period of time — over 2 weeks, according to the DSM-5 manual.
- A lack of or complete loss of interest in activities that you otherwise enjoy.
- Body aches such as headaches, and cramps that won’t go away.
- A lack of concentration, focus, and problems with memory and remembering details.
- Unexplained and excessive fatigue.
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances.
- An altered appetite, either excessive or very little, resulting in either weight loss or weight gain.
- Restlessness, irritability, and overall bad temperament.
- Stomach problems, including cramps, diarrhea, digestive problems, etc.
- Hopelessness and feeling isolated or craving isolation.
- Thinking about self-harm or suicide.
The Best Resources for Support and Treatment of Depression Among Women
Depression can be very isolating since not a lot of people understand its complications and the struggles of the people suffering from it. Having a supportive family and friends circle is very helpful but for people who find themselves lacking this kind of support, there are various organizations and resources available that can help you manage and treat depression, along with providing you the support that you need.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
NAMI is a mental health advocacy group based in the United States with the aim of providing support and a chance of living a normal life to people suffering from mental illnesses. Not only does NAMI advocate for the right of mentally struggling people to a normal life, but it also educates, supports, and spreads awareness regarding the challenges they may face in everyday life.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
A part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), SAMHSA supplies programs, policies, funding and personnel, data, prevention, treatment, and recovery services for the welfare of individual and community mental health with the mission to help minimize the individual and community effects of mental and substance use disorders on the US population.
Postpartum Support International (PSI)
Still a relatively taboo topic, PSI aims to shed light on and spread awareness of perinatal mental health issues faced by women. It is an international organization with a mission to promote understanding, treatment, and prevention of mental health issues and depression among childbearing women.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
An international non-profit organization, the mission of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America is to work toward preventing, treating, and curing anxiety, OCD, depression, and co-existing disorders through educational resources, scientific research, and professional practice.
Mental Health Apps
Looking for support when suffering from a mental disorder can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially because of the stigma around mental illness. Additionally, often, people cannot afford therapy and treatment. This can discourage them from seeking help. Fortunately, there are apps dedicated to spreading awareness through educational resources and evidence-based exercises for the treatment and prevention of mental health disorders.
Mooditude is a mental health platform that guides you to your happiness in a safe, supportive space with information, tools, and activities created by experts. It features tools to help you with concerns around loneliness, addiction, burnout, depression, impulsive behavior, and anything else that has been affecting your mood, all in the privacy and comfort of your own home.
Lifestyle Changes to Incorporate for Treatment and Prevention of Depression
Depression is not the end of the world, although at times it may feel like it. In mild cases, simple lifestyle alterations can drastically improve symptoms. In fact, therapists recommend certain lifestyle changes along with therapy for optimal results. Here are some practical and effortless methods to look after your mental health:
Studies suggest that a mild, structured workout every day can aid in relieving symptoms of depression, especially lethargy and loss of interest in everyday activities. A study was conducted on three groups of moderately depressed individuals. Each was assigned a different support group: exercise intervention group, social support group, and wait-list control group. By the end of the experiment, it was concluded that the exercise intervention group showed the most improvement.
There is evidence to conclude that there is a significant connection between food and mood. Excessive consumption of unhealthy foods such as processed foods and high sugar foods, etc. can cause low energy and irritable mood. A diet comprising of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, and less sugar and processed foods can aid in alleviating symptoms associated with depression.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Unchecked alcohol consumption, drug use, and smoking are not only known to exacerbate symptoms of depression, but they can also interfere with the efficacy of the anti-depressants you may be taking. Thus, it is medically advised for people suffering from clinical depression to limit or avoid alcohol consumption and smoking for treatment to be effective.
Depression can be isolating but you do not have to go through it alone. For women who find themselves lacking support during such difficult times, there are various resources that can help them feel seen and understood. Asking for help should never be an issue, there are plenty of people willing to help.