There are emotional highs and lows in every woman’s life. But what happens when the lows far outnumber the highs? When these lows begin to interfere with a woman’s day-to-day life?
Depression is a common disorder, affecting over 17 million American adults annually. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer the symptoms of depression, and the American Psychological Association considers it the most significant mental health risk for women.
Why is depression so much more prevalent among women? Hormone shifts that occur at various stages of life (such as puberty, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause) may predispose us to developing symptoms of depression. When external stressors such as college, career, marriage, family relationships, and childcare are added to the mix, it’s easy to understand why so many women are affected by depression.
Signs and Symptoms
The following list highlights some of the most common symptoms of depression. According to the guidelines set forth by the National Institute of Mental Health, the presence of three or more of the following symptoms may indicate a need for further evaluation.
- Persistent sadness or anxiety
- Loss of interest in activities that are typically pleasurable (including sex)
- Restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Increased fatigue, decreased energy
- Change in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Physical symptoms which do not respond to treatment, such as headaches
Types of Depression
There are three main types of depression. In major depression, symptoms occur for several months or longer and interfere with the patient’s ability to function normally. Those with major depression may be unable to work or to care for themselves or their families.
Symptoms of dysthymia are typically milder than those of major depression. Affected individuals may be able to carry on many of their daily activities, but they typically do so with little interest or enthusiasm.
Bipolar disorder is less common and involves cycles of depressive symptoms that alternate with symptoms of mania, such as racing thoughts, increased activity, and risk-taking behavior.
Causes and Treatment of Depression
Many factors contribute to the development of depression in women. Genetics play an important role, as do hormone levels, stress, and certain biochemical and environmental factors. Many women live a high-stress lifestyle, juggling kids, career, marriage, and family, and they often put themselves last, which adds to the problem.
Wendy Parks, a nurse practitioner at King Family Medicine in Edmond, sees many women complaining of symptoms of depression. “I see a lot of women between the ages of 30 and 40 who are dealing with depression, and some of these women feel guilty about not being happy because they have an otherwise ideal life. I try to emphasize to these women that this is a disease state just like diabetes.”
Parks typically discusses the patient’s symptoms, family history, and hormone levels. She does saliva testing to check for estrogen dominance and orders tests to rule out anemia and check thyroid and sugar levels. For mild symptoms, she waits until the results come back and then discusses options, including bio-identical hormone replacement and antidepressant medication. For more serious cases, she often prescribes antidepressants at the initial visit and follows up with lab results. Parks checks up on all of her patients every four to six weeks for the first three months.
“Depression is often easily treated, and women just need to ask for help” advises Parks. “Once we find the cause, women can start to feel like themselves again.”
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions. She holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in English from the University of Central Oklahoma. Shannon lives in Edmond with her husband and two daughters.