Women and Depression
Women experience twice the rate of depression as men.
Everyone experiences disappointment or sadness in life. When the “down” times last a long time or interfere with your ability to function, you may be suffering from a common medical illness called depression.
Major depression affects your mood, mind, body and behavior. Nearly 15 million Americans — one in 10 adults — experience depression each year, and about two-thirds don’t get the help they need.
Women experience twice the rate of depression as men, regardless of race or ethnic background. An estimated one in eight women will contend with a major depression in their lifetimes.
Researchers suspect that, rather than a single cause, many factors unique to women’s lives play a role in developing depression. These factors include: genetic and biological, reproductive, hormonal, abuse and oppression, interpersonal and certain psychological and personality characteristics.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Little interest or pleasure in doing things
- Feeling down, depressed or hopeless
- Trouble falling or staying asleep or sleeping too much
- Feeling tired or having little energy
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Feeling bad about yourself, that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down
- Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television
- Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed or the opposite in that you are so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual
- Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of hurting yourself in some way
Women may be more likely to report certain symptoms, such as
- Somatization (the physical expression of mental distress)
- Increases in weight and appetite
- Outwardly expressed anger and hostility
Helping a Woman with Depression
People with depression aren’t the only ones who suffer. Their friends and loved ones may experience worry, fear, uncertainty, guilt, confusion or even be more likely to go through depression themselves.
The situation may be especially trying if your loved one doesn’t realize that she is depressed. You can help by recognizing the symptoms of depression and pointing out that she has changed.
Recognize even atypical signs of depression. Women may be more likely to report certain symptoms, such as anxiety, physical pain, increases in weight and appetite, oversleeping and outwardly expressed anger and hostility. Women are also more likely to have another mental illness-such as eating disorders or anxiety disorders-present with depression, so be alert for depression if you know a woman with a history of mental illness.
To point out these changes without seeming accusatory or judgmental, it helps to use “I” statements, or sentences that start with “I.” Saying “I’ve noticed you seem to be feeling down and sleeping more” sounds less accusatory than “you’ve changed.”
Talking to a Woman with Depression
If a friend or loved one has depression, you may be trying to figure out how you can talk to her in a comforting and helpful way. This may be difficult for many reasons. She is probably feeling isolated, emotionally withdrawn, angry or hostile and sees the world in a negative light.
Although you may feel your efforts are rebuffed or unwelcome, she needs your support. You can simply be someone she can talk to and let her share her feelings.
It’s important to remember that depression is a medical illness. Her symptoms are not a sign of laziness or of feeling sorry for herself. She can’t just “snap out of it” by taking a more positive outlook on life.
Helpful responses include, “I am sorry you’re in so much pain” or “I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. It must be very difficult and lonely.” Instead of simply disagreeing with feelings she conveys, it is more helpful to point out realities and hope.
A woman with depression often expects to be rejected. You can reassure her that you will be there for her and ask if there’s anything you can do to make her life easier.
If your loved one is not diagnosed or not in treatment, the most important thing you can do is encourage her to see a health care professional.
Never ignore statements about suicide. Even if you don’t believe your loved one is serious, these thoughts should be reported to your friend’s doctor.