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Women and Depression

What You Need to Know


Updated February 19, 2014

Depression is quite common. In fact, depressed mood is the fourth most common symptom that patients complain of when they see their primary care physician. About 10% to 25% of women will have have major depression at some point during their lifetime and they will be especially vulnerable during their reproductive years. Mood disorders like depression worsen the morbidity and mortality rates of other medical disorders. In addition, untreated depression has the potential to lead to suicide. It is important for women to understand depression and how it affects their lives.

1. Depression Is a Real Illness

Having depression does not mean that you are weak or lazy. It is caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain and can be treated with medication just like any other illness.

2. Depression Is More Than Ordinary Sadness

All of us will have bad days from time to time. However, depression is more than just having a bad day. It is an illness that has both physical and emotional symptoms.

3. Knowing the Symptoms of Depression Is the First Step in Getting Help

If you have experienced five or more of these symptoms within the same two-week period -- especially if a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure are among your symptoms -- this could be indicative of an episode of depression. The symptoms should not be accounted for by another illness, drugs of abuse or prescription medications.

4. Women Are Most Prone to Depression During Their Reproductive Years

The peak onset of depression in women occurs during the reproductive years. Research indicates that the hormonal fluctuations that women go through may be responsible. Estrogen and progesterone have been shown to affect neurotransmitter, neuroendocrine and circadian systems implicated in mood disorders. The fact that women often undergo mood disorders associated with their menstrual cycle also points to a relationship between sex hormones and mood. In addition, the hormonal changes associated with childbirth are a common trigger for mood disorders. Although menopause is a time when risk declines, the periomenopausal period is a time of increased risk for those with a history of major depression.

5. Depression Is Treatable

You do not need to suffer if you have depression. Several treatments are available to you, including medications and psychotherapy.

6. Pregnant Women Face a Unique Treatment Challenge

When you become pregnant you are faced with a very hard choice. You want to do everything possible to ensure the health of your baby; but, at the same time, stopping your medication may pose a risk to your own mental health. What should you do?

7. Women Are Different From Men When It Comes to Depression

Although the causes of depression in men and women are very similar, there are also some subtle differences.

Gender Differences in the Prevalence of Depression

Gender Differences in Antidepressant Effects

Gender Differences in Depression Symptoms

Gender Differences in Suicide


Kornstein, Susan G. and Anita H. Clayton. Women's Mental Health: A Comprehensive Textbook New York: Guilford Press, 2002.

Rakel, Robert E. and Edward T. Bope, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 60th ed. Philadephia: Saunders, 2008.

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