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Why Depression Is More Common Among Women

Why Depression Is More Common Among Women

Women are twice as likely to develop the condition than men.

Being a woman doubles your lifetime risk of being diagnosed with depression—a condition that affects much more than your emotional wellbeing. Depression can have far reaching effects, including:

  • Interfering with work, family life and your ability to complete everyday tasks
  • Causing debilitating physical symptoms for some
  • Putting you at risk for other conditions, including insomnia and substance abuse

In fact, depression is the number one cause of disability among women worldwide.

The fact that women are often juggling various responsibilities both inside and outside the home is just one reason why they may be more vulnerable, according to Sangeeta Sinha, MD, an OBGYN at StoneSprings Hospital Center in Dulles, Virginia.

Women shoulder many responsibilities
“Women tend to take on multiple roles—maybe because of how they were raised, what’s expected of them or the expectations they set for themselves,” Dr. Sinha says.

This may include going to work, caring for children, maintaining the home and more.

The piling on of responsibilities often overlaps with physical changes that take place during life stages, such as puberty and menopause, she explains. For example, the average unpaid caregiver is a 49-year-old female. Many of these women are juggling careers, elder care, parenting and financial planning along with the physical and emotional changes that may occur during menopause.

Complicating matters, these everyday demands often force women to neglect their own health needs.

“Women really invest their whole body and soul into these relationships,” says Sinha. “They stop exercising, their sleep cycle breaks up, they eat whatever is available.” These unhealthy behaviors increase their risk for depression risk even more.

Each life stage brings physical changes
As women age, they face significant hormonal changes, Sinha explains. These events include:

  • Puberty: Puberty alone doesn’t cause depression. But hormonal changes along with mood swings, rigorous school schedules and social pressures put girls at risk.
  • Menstruation: Each year, about three million U.S. women are diagnosed with a severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, which may involve depressed mood and physical symptoms that can disrupt a woman’s life. Researchers are still trying to understand exactly what causes PMDD but fluctuations in hormones and certain brain chemicals that help regulate mood, such as serotonin, could play a role. Underlying depression, genetics and psychosocial issues, including stress, may also be involved .
  • Pregnancy: It’s a common misconception that depression only affects women after they give birth. The intense physical, hormonal and life changes that take place during pregnancy may result in depression for expecting moms as well, says Sinha. In fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that 14 to 23 percent of women will develop some symptoms of depression during pregnancy.
  • Childbirth: A brief, mild case of the “baby blues” is common among new mothers. However, about 10 to 15 percent of women will experience a more serious condition called postpartum depression. Postpartum depression may involve internal conflict regarding motherhood. Women might report a “loss of self,” worry they’re “going crazy” or feel overwhelming loneliness, among other symptoms. “This happens because the huge surges of estrogen and progesterone that you have during pregnancy are suddenly gone [after giving birth],” says Sinha. Stress, exhaustion and new responsibilities are other possible contributing factors.
  • Menopause: Some women may develop depression around menopause as their estrogen levels drop. This hormone helps regulate serotonin levels, which can influence mood. Keep in mind however most women who experience uncomfortable menopause symptoms don’t develop depression. But poor sleep, anxiety or a history of depression, difficult life events, weight gain or early menopause may increase women’s risk for the depression.  

“Menopause may be one of the toughest phases because during other stressful times, you have a great deal of social support. Everyone knows when you’ve just had a baby, for example,” says Sinha. “But in menopause, you might not have as much help. That’s why you need to seek out friends your age, counseling or support groups.”

Gender inequalities contribute to depression
Depression is related, in part, to life stressors and whether someone feels they have the ability to change their circumstances. Women may face gender-specific challenges such as:

  • Workplace inequality
  • Lower incomes and fewer job options
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Sexual assault or rape

Men, of course, may face these challenges or traumas as well, though they disproportionately affect women.    

If you experience assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) for confidential help. A trained staff member can share information on counseling, resources in your area or simply listen.

Men and women may experience depression differently 
It’s important to note that the gender gap in depression rates could result from fewer men seeking treatment when they need it. 

Masculine norms like self-reliance and stoicism may cause men to deny—or overlook—depression symptoms until their condition is advanced. Even when men do reach out for help, studies show they’re less likely to receive the proper diagnosis or appropriate medications and counseling. 

Depression also may show up differently in men. They may, for example, turn to substance abuse. It’s important for men, their families and their healthcare providers to have open conversations about mental health. Doing so can prompt men to get the help they need, improving their lives and the lives of loved ones. 

How to get depression help
You can’t just “snap out of” depression or “get over it.” It’s a real medical condition that requires treatment, such as talk therapy or medication. The first step towards recovery is talking to a mental health professional about how you’re feeling. Here are some ways to get help:

  • Locate a counselor in your area with Sharecare’s Find a Doctor tool
  • Learn about affordable mental health services by calling the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • If you’re having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1‑800‑273‑8255 or reach out via Live Chat
  • Find an online or in-person support group through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

“Women are, at least, more likely to consult a doctor or talk about their depression symptoms,” says Sinha. “It’s so important to tell someone—and it would be wonderful to have supportive partners and children too, so that women who are trying to do umpteen things at the same time can take breaks to care for themselves.”

Medically reviewed in September 2018. Updated in September 2019.

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