International Women’s Day
This Sunday is International Women’s Day. The day is dedicated to women’s rights, to recognizing key achievements, and to acknowledging all that still needs to be done. We’d like to contribute to the day’s spotlight on women by discussing an important piece of women’s health: mental health.
Depression affects both men and women, and it’s not just a bad case of sadness. It doesn’t always have a reason and isn’t gender, age, or lifestyle exclusive; it happens to everyone.
Our focus is on depression today because of its prevalence. We hope that all readers can benefit from today’s article but would also like to note that this issue is more present among women than it is among men. This is likely due to certain biological, hormonal, and social factors that are unique to women.1 It’s an appropriate time to bring the discussion to the table and to offer up some helpful information.
Is Depression Normal?
No. Depression is not just a part of life or something you have to live with. It’s a medical condition with many models of treatment. Yes, depression is common, but it’s also serious. It’s important to remember that sadness and grief are normal and healthy parts of the human experience. Only your healthcare provider can help you determine whether your symptoms indicate depression, but if you would like to reference a description of potential symptoms, you can find one here.
Will it Go Away on Its Own?
Depression typically requires treatment, either in the form of therapy (which isn’t scary or something to be ashamed of by the way), medication, or sometimes a combination of both. A statement from an article by the National Institute of Mental Health deserves to be reiterated here: “You can’t just ‘snap out’ of depression. Well-meaning friends or family members may try to tell someone with depression to “snap out of it,” [or to] “just be positive,” … but depression is not a sign of a person’s weakness or a character flaw.” Often, the reason a person is depressed stems from something that’s out of their control (like a biological, psychological, or environmental factor)1.
Why Do Women Experience Depression More Than Men?
The Mayo Clinic offers a nice breakdown of the various elements that make depression more commonplace among women. It demonstrates exactly what it means to have biological, psychological, and environmental factors in play. We will briefly describe them here, but if you would like to read about them in greater detail, you can read the Mayo Clinic’s article on Depression in Women.
Certain factors that emerge during puberty, like sexuality and identity issues, conflicts with parents, and increasing pressure to achieve in various areas of life, contribute to the emergence of depression. These factors apply to boys as well, but because girls typically reach puberty earlier, they are likely to develop depression earlier; this depression gender gap may continue throughout life.2
Most of the time, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms are minor and short-lived. Some women, however, experience severe symptoms that are significantly disruptive to their lives. This increased severity turns PMS into a type of depression that generally requires treatment.2
Dramatic hormonal changes during pregnancy or during attempts to become pregnant can contribute to depression. There are also many other lifestyle, relationship, work, and social factors associated with pregnancy that play a role.2
Many new moms experience sadness, anger, and irritability after giving birth, but serious and long-lasting depressive symptoms may point to post-partum depression. This occurs in about 10-15% of women.2
Peri-Menopause and Menopause
The erratic fluctuation of hormone levels can increase the risk of developing depression. Other factors like poor sleep and weight gain also play a part.2
Life Circumstances and Cultural Stressors
Unequal power and status, work overload, and sexual or physical abuse, also contribute to depression in women. These factors occur in men too, but usually at a lower rate.2
What to Do if You or Someone You Know is Exhibiting Signs of Depression
For the person experiencing depression, the most difficult part of treatment is recognizing the need for it and seeking help. A good first step is to talk to your doctor. They can help assess your symptoms and point you in the right direction.
If you would like to help someone who is struggling with depression, the best thing you can do is to be present. Show your support by listening and asking how you can help. Sometimes the preferred help is simply that you sit with them for a while. Avoid giving unsolicited advice, minimizing the problem, or trying to “fix” how the person is feeling.
Depression is not to be taken lightly, and the risk of suicide is very real. If you believe your loved one is at risk for suicide, do not leave them alone. In the U.S., call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1 (800) 273 – 8255. The new 3-digit national crisis hotline (988) is not yet active. In Canada, call the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1 (833) 456 – 4566. For anywhere else in the world, visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention to find resources and helplines for wherever you are.
For more articles like this one, read our article on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. To stay in-the-know on important health and nutrition topics, subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly highlights from the Living Healthy Blog!
- “Depression in Women: 5 Things You Should Know.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-in-women/index.shtml
- “Women’s Increased Risk of Depression.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 29 Jan. 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression/art-20047725