What Are the Signs of Depression in Women

signs of depression in women

Gender and depression have long been the scope of research in the field of emotional disorders; most authors believe that depression occurs more often in women than in men. However, it seems that women also visit their doctor more often than men, which can lead to a false conclusion that they are more likely to be diagnosed with depression. There is evidence, on the other hand, that the signs of depression in women may differ from those found in men (although there are some universal symptoms of depression typical of both genders). For example, hormonal changes in women are associated with depression and these show as depression during pregnancy, after childbirth or miscarriage, in periods of irregular menstruation cycle and menopause.

Do symptoms of depression in women differ from those in men?

Symptoms of depression in women vary by individual and they depend heavily on woman’s age; body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders are particularly common in the adolescence period, confusion and despair in young adulthood, aggressiveness in mid-life, and mood disorders in older age based on negative views of physical aging. A research implemented in 1999 showed that compared to men, women diagnosed with depression had more somatic (bodily) and psychological symptoms such as:

  • fatigue,
  • hot flashes,
  • increased appetite and weight gain,
  • sleep disorder – especially, hypersomnia,
  • anxiety,
  • body ache and body dissatisfaction,
  • “maternity blues” after childbirth (which may lead to mild or serious postpartum depression),
  • mood changes (especially in the premenstrual period),
  • loss of motivation,
  • loss of interest in sex,
  • loss of feeling of pleasure,
  • overwhelming sadness and emptiness,
  • uncontrolled crying,
  • learned helplessness,
  • coping with regrets and doubts which often results in violent behavior,
  • feelings of failure,
  • psychological distress, confusion and despair,
  • inability to concentrate,
  • irritability, etc.

Symptoms of depression in women during pregnancy

One-third of depressed women experience their first episode of depression during pregnancy, but it is most commonly acknowledged after childbirth in a sometimes serious condition known as postpartum depression. Unfortunately, untreated depression is common in pregnancy. Pregnant and non-pregnant women experience depressive moods at the same rate and sometimes it can be difficult to diagnose depression in pregnant women because symptoms of pregnancy and depression may overlap. Moreover, depressive pregnant and non-depressive pregnant women report more or less the same symptoms:

  • decreased energy,
  • insomnia (non-pregnant women may experience hypersomnia),
  • appetite disorders,
  • diminished libido, etc.

Because the symptoms of depression in pregnant women are often the same as those of non-pregnant women, some clinicians recommend screening for depression in pregnant women with PHQ-9 – the standard screening instrument.

The main concern of clinicians treating depression in pregnant women is whether to employ conventional or non-conventional treatments, and to determine what impact may the treatment or lack of treatment have on the baby.

Signs of Depression in Women with PMDD

A diagnosis of PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), which is a severe form of PMS depression, is usually attributed to women experiencing five or more of these symptoms including: depression, anxiety, effective lability, irritability, poor concentration, eating disorder, lack of motivation and diminished libido, body ache.

These symptoms occur on a regular basis during at least one year before the diagnose is merited. The symptoms remit after menstruation.

Depression in Women in Perimenopause and Menopause

According to some researchers, estrogen has anti-depressive effects. Levels of estrogen decline during perimenopause period, which makes women very vulnerable to depressive symptoms. These changes in the menstrual cycle usually occur in women aged 45-50. Generally speaking, menopause does not increase the risk of depression, but women experiencing great physical changes at menopause are more likely to suffer from accompanying depression symptoms than those who go through it without any apparent changes.

Treatments for Women with Depression

Women mostly seek non-conventional treatments of depression such as using herbal remedies for depression (for example, St. John’s wort or Evening Primrose Oil), practicing daily body exercise, acupuncture and bright light exposure. Non-conventional treatments of a bipolar disorder are not recommended and they are considered ineffective.

References:

Susan L. Simonds, Depression and Women: An Integrative Treatment Approach (2006)

James Lake & David Spiegel, Complementary and alternative treatments in mental health care (2007)