Every facet of depression is rife with judgment, loathing, and anxiety. From diagnosis to treatment, depression sufferers constantly deal with pressure from themselves, friends, family and from society to “get it together.” While all sufferers feel this stress, one group suffers from depression more than you may know.
Over the course of our lives, the National Institute of Mental Health says women are 70 percent more likely to experience depression than men.
NIMH outlines some of the general reasons women experience depression, including “biological, life cycle, hormonal and psychosocial factors.” For example, post-partum depression occurs due to hormonal changes and physical changes. But put the heavy responsibility of a new baby into the mix and the stress can become more severe. Menopause can also bring with it an increased risk of depression because of the fluctuation of hormones. Abuse is another significant contributor to the increased levels of depression in the female population. Women are more likely than men to experience abuse; consequently they are more prone to depression.
It’s not just individual stressors that affect depression rates in women. Larger cultural issues can be contributors as well. The Mayo Clinic attributes the gender gap in depression to several widespread issues. They cite “general unequal power and status” as a factor. They note that women are more likely to live in poverty than men and experience limited earning potential; minority women in particular feel additional stress from discrimination. Women may be concerned about child care, health care, and care for our parents, we have feelings and fears that we cannot control the future. Lastly, women who work still handle most household tasks, adding to the load of issues already on our plate.
What about girls and young women? Dr. Melissa Batt of The Depression Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora revealed an interesting statistic: boys and girls experience depression at an equal rate until age 12. After age 12, girls are two-thirds more likely to have depression. She says that hormones could be a culprit, but also cautions that we still have a long way to go with understanding why depression occurs. She stresses that family history is a very powerful factor and in fact, new studies are in progress to study whether genetics play a part in depression as well.
But how are these feelings expressed? Despair is a typical symptom of depression in women. This is not necessarily the same for men. With depression, men tend to lose interest in former passions, become tired and irritable, or throw themselves into their work. Depression in women manifests itself not just in despair, but also in sadness, excessive guilt, and feelings of worthlessness. In fact, the NIMH says more women attempt suicide than men, though more men die from it.
And just as the symptoms are different, the treatment can be different too.
When women suffer depression due to hormonal or life cycle changes, treatment can target those causes. According to Dr. Batt, special considerations may be given if the depression is due to pregnancy, menses, or menopause. What is tricky is that hormones are sometimes prescribed during perimenopause, which in turn can cause depression. What you should know about treating depression in general is that while therapy and medication are fine independently of each other, “doing both is better” according to Dr. Batt. And how do you know you’re at risk for depression or experiencing depression? She says, “Once you have a depressive episode, you become prone to them. And actually, having three or more episodes usually means you’re on anti-depressants for life.”
While lifelong medication is scary to think about, getting help is not uncommon or difficult. You can start with talking to your doctor. And fortunately, Aurora has a wonderful source right in our community. The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Depression Center conducts research, community programs and educational programs. They also treat individuals. To make an appointment, call 303-724-3300.