Did you know that women are twice as likely to struggle with depressive symptoms as men? Statistics show that 1 in 5 people have experienced depression in the UK alone, revealing how common this mental issue is. In this blog, along with the theme of IWD 2022, ‘Break The Bias’, we’re opening a conversation about depression in women, its signs, causes, and available treatment.
Depression in Women vs Men
On average, we all feel sad, overwhelmed or isolated from time to time. However, battling a medical condition that is depression is different. It’s not just a low mood or a bad week. Most people with depression need treatment to improve their overall wellbeing. What’s particularly interesting is how twice as many women as men are, at some point in their lives, diagnosed with depression. One cannot help but wonder:
What puts women at a greater risk of developing this condition?
Why is depression in women more common than in men?
Let’s look at the two fundamental elements here: biological and social factors.
Causes of Depression in Women: Biological Factors
The risk of depression in women starts increasing in their puberty. Girls start developing earlier than boys. They need to learn how to navigate fluctuating hormones, menstrual cycles and mood swings while their male peers do not face such challenges. Girls also struggle to figure out their identity or deal with external pressure at this stage. With reaching puberty, appears the risk of developing depression in women that is more likely to last longer and recur due to:
Differences in hormonal levels:
Women face different issues like PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome), including anxiety, irritability and pains. Did you know that a small percentage of females develop Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), disrupting their sleep cycle, appetite, focus, mood and emotion regulation?
Significant life events causing stress:
Unarguably, pregnancy or giving birth is a prime example of a life-changing event for women. We often see the beauty in being pregnant, but the harsh reality often goes unnoticed. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Women deal with drastic hormonal changes, morning sickness, aches, mood swings, weight gain or even miscarriage. Going through such a significant transformation takes its toll, heightening the risk of depression in women, e.g. baby blues or postpartum depression.
Causes Of Depression In Women: Social Factors
Do you know the overwhelming feeling of having too much on your plate?
Try to imagine what it must be like to live this reality constantly…
This 2001 research explored the impact of gender differences on developing depression by analysing how stressful life events influence the mental health of both partners in a couple. When faced with a crisis concerning their children, housing, or reproduction issues, women are at 80% higher risk of having a depressive episode. However, no significant differences between partners were found when the crisis involved finances, work, or marital relationships.
The study further suggests that females often struggle with the role strain effect. It happens when attempting to fulfil many roles simultaneously, drying up resources and stretching oneself too thin.
We all witness this issue daily. We can only imagine how emotionally overwhelming motherhood and pursuing a professional career can be, especially as a single parent, trying to make ends meet. On top of that, the responsibility for handling most home chores or taking care of sick or old family members often falls on women. Additionally, among other factors increasing the risk of depression in women are:
- unequal power and status, which puts women’s career progression at a disadvantage compared to men
- a higher risk of experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse as children, which affects the likelihood of developing depression in their adult life
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How To: Get Involved
Mostly, we are unaware of the daily challenges that women face. However, when living with depression, having social support does make a difference. Get involved and show support to the women in your life who struggle with depression. It can play a crucial role in their recovery. Start with these 3 steps:
1) Educate yourself on depression.
2) Practice compassionate listening.
3) Encourage your loved one to get professional help.
What are the signs of depression in women?
Women experience depression differently from men due to different factors that come to play. These are some of the signs of depression in women:
- Constant fatigue and weakness leading to excessive sleeping and low motivation
- Overwhelming guilt and unworthiness visible through harsh self-criticism and dwelling on mistakes
- Significant irritability, mood swings and crying outbursts
- Struggles with anxiety that effect in isolating oneself
- A higher number of suicide attempts compared to men
- Fluctuating weight & changes in appetite linked to fluctuating hormones
- Emotional eating & comorbid eating disorders
An eating disorder is like battling your own demons daily. It’s like having a voice inside your head that thinks you’re a failure when you’re getting better, even if you want to improve. It’s like a rollercoaster with constant ups and downs. For instance, someone’s binge eating disorder might mean feeling elevated when they use food to deal with negative emotions and then ashamed when they realise how much they’d eaten.
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How to treat depression in women
Living with depression is filled with daily challenges and uphill battles. It might feel incredibly lonely at times. Amid this struggle, remember that you are not alone. The standard treatment for depression is available in the form of:
- Antidepressant medication that even out the serotonin imbalance in the brain
- Psychotherapy that helps to:
- Restore inner balance and a sense of hope for a better future,
- Address negative thinking patterns,
- Break the vicious cycle of dysfunctional behaviours,
- Improve coping skills that alleviate the symptoms of depression in women and empower you throughout the process of treatment
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Here are 3 actionable steps you can take today to get better:
1) Reach out to your loved ones and stay in touch with them. Battling depression on your own can get exhausting. Asking others for help doesn’t make you weak; it makes you stronger.
2) Do what you (used to) love. Have a walk in the park, grab a cup of coffee, pick up a sport. Don’t give in to the discouraging voice of depression. Just do it, and you might be positively surprised.
3) Get professional help. Depression in women is normal. There is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed. It is OK not to be OK. Do not hesitate to reach out and ask for help here: Depression Counselling in London and Online.