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Women and Depression: Understanding the Gender Gap

Everyone feels worried, anxious, or sad from time to time. But when a woman has a true mental health disorder, including depression, she finds it hard to function normally.

Cultural, biological, and social factors influence the role of women in society. Expectations within these frameworks may increase the risk of depression. Stress compounds the risk for depression, and when a person feels as though she cannot function within the established norm, symptoms of depression emerge.

Variety of stressors

Stressors often include conflicting responsibilities at work and home, as well as caring for children and aging parents.

Still, research indicates depression can be caused by a variety of factors:

  • Genetics. You have a greater risk of developing depression if you have a family history of the illness. Not everybody with a family history of the condition develops depression, though. Depression can occur in people who have no family members with the illness.

  • Brain chemistry. People with depression usually have an imbalance with brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

  • Environment and stress. The death of a loved one, abusive relationships, financial problems, or a major life change can contribute to depression. Sometimes depression can begins at the same time as a physical illness.

  • Mental characteristics. Women are more likely to be depressed if they are pessimistic, worry excessively, have low self-esteem, or feel they have little control over their lives.

  • Adolescence. Before adolescence, boys and girls have the same rate of depression. Between ages 11 and 13, however, depression rates for girls increase dramatically. By age 15, girls are twice as likely to have suffered from depression as boys.

Signs of depression

Having symptoms of depression doesn’t mean a person is depressed.

However, if several of the following behaviors or feelings continue for at least two weeks, talk with your health care provider:

  • Persistent sadness or anxiety

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex

  • Restlessness, irritability, or crying

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness

  • Needing too much or too little sleep, early-morning awakening

  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain

  • Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling “slowed down”

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions

  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

Proven treatments

These are treatment steps that lead to healing:

  • Recognize the symptoms of depression.

  • Seek help from your health care provider or a mental health professional.

  • Agree to and stick with a treatment plan. Common treatments for depression are antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.

Seeking help for depression is the first step in controlling the symptoms that take pleasure out of life. Talk with your provider about working with the treatment plan and reporting your response to the treatments. Response rates to treatment are high, and you can feel better.