Signs of Depression in Women
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Signs of depression in women are unique for many reasons. Rates of depression are higher in women all across the world, and the causes and manifestations are different for women then they are men.
For decades studies in clinical psychology have focused on men, and the uniqueness of a woman's experience was essentially ignored.
Thankfully, there is now more of an interest in issues that are particular to women, including those related to menopause, pregnancy, and menstrual cycles.
Around the world, women:
- comprise the majority of people in poverty
- have higher rates of sexual victimization
- are primary targets of domestic violence
- earn less the men doing the same job
Clearly the biological and cultural influences which produce signs of depression in women are different.
Its also important to understand that contributors to women's depression also are unique. Communication patterns,codependency, trust issues and relationship issues, compassion fatigue, burnout and hormonal issues can all be contributing factors.
Below, I outline some of the signs of depression in women that I work with in my therapy practice.
Negative Thoughts and Overwhelm
Feeling Hopeless or Bad about Yourself because of Role Overwhelm
Many of the women I see in my practice are struggling to understand what society expects of them and what they expect of themselves.
- Should they get married and have children or have a career, or have both?
- If they were a homemaker and their children have gone to college should they go back to work?
- What should they do with their lives?
I often see these competing roles and the decisions about them as contributors to depression. Major signs of depression in women are feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, low self-esteem, or guilt. Women often report these to me in the context of their role: as a mother, a wife, a friend or a daughter. These signs of depression in women that center on roles occur across class and race. I work with stay at home moms who are depressed. I work with successful professional women who are depressed. These are issues faced by women whether married or unmarried, with children or childless, stay at home or working.
Hormonal and chemical changes prompting depression
This is one of the signs of depression in women that is not well studied or understood. Our body and our mind are really not separate. When we are depressed or anxious our body may get physically ill, and may ache or hurt in ways that we can’t quite explain. It is not surprising that efforts to work on this division between mind and body through meditation, physical exercise and yoga are components of effective treatment for depression.
Women who are depressed can also have dramatic changes in mood that vary with seasons. Some are more depressed in the winter. This is called seasonal affective disorder. Some are more depressed in the summer, this is aptly named, reverse seasonal depressive disorder.
If you have experienced any of these signs of depression for more than two weeks you need help. Please see the help of a therapist trained in helping women with depression.
In addition to the signs of depression discussed on this page, it is important to note that women may suffer from depression:
- in puberty,
- before, during, and after menopause
- before ,during,and after pregnancy
- before and during their period.
Weight loss or Weight Gain
With women, however, I believe this is ones of the signs of depression that is much more significant than with men. Weight and body image is an incredible part of many women’s identity. Almost every women I have worked with who is depressed has body image issues which feed her depression. Whether the weight gain experienced by the use of antidepressants or emotional eating, it is a constant theme in my office, one that I believe is much more significant to women who are depressed than to men.
“ I find myself eating a bag of m & m’s and then it’s gone. I don’t even remember eating them, but I know that for a while, I felt okay. Then I’m disgusted with myself and my body. I’m ugly and fat and worthless."
Loss of energy and change in sleep patterns
Depressed women often don’t want to get out of bed, and don’t have the energy to do small tasks such as the bills or the grocery shopping. At times they will lay in bed ruminating about things they should do, unable to sleep, or they may sleep at times when they feel they shouldn’t be.
Feeling irritated and angry
Having a short temper or feeling more irritated and angry with situations and loved ones can also be a one of the signs of depression in women. I believe this comes from being unhappy with life, generally not taking joy or pleasure from others and not being able to see or appreciate any goodness.
Feelings of sadness or anxiety
Women who are depressed report that they are having crying spells or that they feel numb. Depending on the severity of the depression, they may describe intense feelings of anxiety where they find themselves worrying about things that are unimportant.
"Should I have said hi to that neighbor in the grocery store? Do they think I was rude? Will they tell the other neighbors? Should I call and apologize?"
This kind of ruminating seems to have no end, and it can become almost obsessive in nature. Some women who are in a deep depression do not appear sad or anxious, but completely stoic, unable to interact, and unable to feel.
Inability to concentrate, remember things, and make decisions
This is a symptom that varies in intensity. When women who are depressed try to get motivated to “ just feel better”, they will often be very discouraged by how this symptom interferes with their ability to accomplish tasks, ultimately giving up.
The excerpt below is a quote from one of my past client’s session.
"I made a list of things to do and then I lost it. I got so frustrated with myself that I began to tell myself I’m stupid, I’m lazy ,I can’t get anything right. This is never going to get better and I’m always struggling. I don’t feel like I can get past this, I can’t reach any of my goals, and I don’t know how my husband puts up with me."
Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities as signs of depression in women.
Women who are depressed will often withdraw from social activities they used to find pleasurable. This causes a sense of isolation that often feeds the depression. Part of the difficulty with this symptom is that it interacts with other symptoms.If a woman has a scheduled pleasurable activity with others, because of the depression she may start to feel she is being judged or does not measure up. She also may lack the energy to participate in activities that were once pleasurable. This makes it difficult to do the very thing she needs to do to feel better. Which, by the way, is hard to do if you are depressed. It’s not something you can just “snap out of”.
Each of these situations requires a unique understanding and a sensitive professional and or doctor to handle and assess these concerns.
Here are some links to the most current research on depression
Here are the links to some pages you may be interested in:
Goal setting and how it's related to depression can be found here
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