Is depression really different for women?

You may have heard that women are at higher risk for depression than men. You may have heard that twice as many women as men experience depression.

Turns out, both facts are true.

There are numerous factors that happen for women that can increase their chances for depression, like puberty, premenstrual syndrome, pregnancy, post-pregnancy experiences, perimenopause and menopause, and of course, life events.

In puberty, many girls might experience mood swings and discomfort, especially with everything that comes during puberty, including “raging” hormones, hair growth, the arrival of the period, the realization of one’s sexuality, and peer pressure. While fluctuating hormones don’t necessarily cause depression, all of the things that happen during puberty may definitely increase a girl’s risk of developing it.

During puberty and afterward, when a girl has had her first menstrual cycle, she may experience common annoying symptoms, like swollen and tender breasts, headache, cramping, and general irritability.

But some women may develop a more severe version of PMS, which is called premenstrual dysphoric disorder – this has been known to interrupt a young woman’s social life, work life, relationships, and academic career. This is a type of depression that needs treatment, because of extreme changes to hormones and brain functionality.

During pregnancy, depression may also become a risk. When a woman is pregnant, not only can her hormones get dramatically altered, but she may also be experiencing some internal, emotional distress. She may not want the baby, or may not have expected it; she may have little or no social support; she may be having problems in her relationship and is confused about what having the baby will mean for it.

Depression is also a possibility for women who are still trying to get pregnant, or women who miscarry. Infertility issues unsurprisingly bring about depression symptoms; losing a baby in vitro or immediately after birth is a traumatic event that can give rise to not only depression, but PTSD as well.

After pregnancy, and even in cases of healthy delivery, many women report having baby blues, the sadness that accompanies hormonal crashes after birth. But women who experience depressive symptoms for more than two weeks – crying, anxiety, trouble sleeping, thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby – may mean a diagnosis of postpartum depression, or in more serious cases, postpartum psychosis.

When a woman is beginning to transition to menopause, she is in what is called perimenopause, and this is a time when hormone levels begin to change significantly. Depression isn’t a guaranteed part of menopause, but women who have difficulty sleeping, who might experience surprising weight gain, or those who are living through stressful experiences while also in menopause could be at heightened risk.

While all of the above could be contributors to the risk of depression, it doesn’t stop there. Many women today are working full time jobs and some may still be expected to handle the bulk of home responsibilities. Women who have been abused sexually, physically or emotionally as children are at higher risk for developing depression in adulthood. Negative self-talk at home, at work, or alone could also contribute to the risk.

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