Symptoms and Signs of Depression in Women
Although doctors remain uncertain about why, the fact is that females suffer depression more than males, and there are unique signs of depression in women that are seldom or never seen in men. Not only do women endure depression more commonly, they also start to suffer it from a younger age, struggle bouts of depression with greater frequency, and tend to continue to cope with it well into old age. To make matters worse, female depression tends to follow a distinct pattern, whereas men seem to suffer it more randomly (not in all cases, of course). The obvious difference between men and women with depression is hormones, but that may not be all there is to it.
Fortunately, in recent years mental illness has become a more open topic of discussion, and depression in women is no longer regarded as “hysteria”; in fact, the word “hysterectomy” derives that as its root word. In Mediaeval times, women’s so-called hysteria was thought to be an integral part of being female (read: hysterical and crazy). Now that we better, if not perfectly, understand depression and mental illness, women are being treated for depression, and treated more fairly in the court of popular opinion. Symptoms of depression in women vary with age and other factors.
What are the Signs of Depression in Girls?
Girls from the age of puberty until young adult can be generally said to experience a roller-coaster type of depression, not unlike manic depression or bipolar disorder, that punctuates their emotional well-being. Their hormones change rapidly during these years, together with the physical changes in their bodies as they are readied for womanhood and their child-bearing years. It’s a weight of hormonal fluctuation and fear that tends to tip girls into a state of depression, but there are outside influences, in particular the sudden sensation of competition for the attention of boys, that often leads to a feeling of inadequacy and therefore depression if the feelings endure.
Girls tend to be talkative and even if they are not chatty with their parents, they will almost invariably talk about their feelings of depression with their female peers. When the phone conversations go beyond talk of school and cute boys to late-night, lengthy chats of serious matters, parents may need to be more vigilant for other signs, such as profound weight loss or gain, neglect of school work, and lack of interest in things that used to matter. If the girl is particularly vulnerable, she may be prone to conditions such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, causing female teenage depression to manifest in a physically dangerous illness.
What About Symptoms of Depression in Mature Women?
The middle years of a woman’s life are fraught with triggers that can and sometimes do result in clinical depression, more than just a case of the blues. Again, hormones are widely believed to be the major culprit, but at this stage of life, most women have stability in terms of hormonal extremes; this exists before the onset of menopause. Pregnancy most often occurs during the early middle years, and that brings with it a special form of depression in women; that will be dealt with later because it is too unique and significant to lump into general discourse on the subject.
Signs of depression in women from their (approximately) early 20s to mid-40s tend to show up as unexpected and inexplicable shifts in emotional well-being, with occasional physical symptoms as well. Because this period makes up the lion’s share of a woman’s life, the range of signs and symptoms is also fairly diverse, but all point in the same direction. What follows is a list, with descriptions, of common signs of depression in middle-aged women. It should be duly noted, however, that almost all of these signs, taken individually, happen to all women at some time, and sometimes to men as well; it is the combination of several of these symptoms in a concentrated or prolonged period that signal true clinical depression in women. In no particular order:
- Failure to maintain looks and appearance. This is one of the more obvious signs of depression in women. Unless a woman has historically not cared about how she looks or dresses, then this is a telltale hint. Ceasing to wear make-up without reason (such as a sudden allergy to make-up), wearing unclean or sloppy clothing, failing to shower or bath and keep hair freshly washed, and gaining large amounts of weight quickly are the top indicators.
- Neglecting a spouse, children, or even pets. This, too, is an obvious, very much outward symptom and is felt by every member for the family.
- Loss of interest in work or career, or in a favorite hobby or television program. This may be more subtle to detect because the lack of job interest may only show at work, and the enjoyment of television can easily be dismissed by excuses such as having too much work or housework to do.
- Insufficient or disturbed sleep. This includes difficulty falling asleep as well as staying asleep. In its extreme, it evolves into serious levels of insomnia, in and of itself dangerous when any form of alertness is required. Nightmares may or may not be part of this, but if they are abnormal and begin to occur frequently, this is another sign.
- Irregular menstruation. While this is definitely a physical symptom, depression can affect the tight hormonal pattern that comprises a regular 28-day cycle for women in their child-bearing years. Some women claim that depression also causes or worsens pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), but thus far no direct correlation has been uncovered in clinical studies and in fact the reverse may be true. More research needs to be done.
- Negative comments and complaining. This only applies in the case of a woman who is normally positive and complains when a real issue is at hand. It becomes a problem and a symptom of depression when the negativity and complaints are unwarranted.
- Mood swings. We’ve all endured circumstances where we feel like we’re “walking on eggshells” around a certain person who we can never count on being consistent in nature; the same applies to women exhibiting signs of depression. If the lady in question is normally even-tempered and suddenly displays extreme moods, depression may be at the root of her abnormally variable behavior.
- Loss of self-esteem, often demonstrated as self-criticism. Self-deprecating remarks made by women can confound and frustrate their male counterparts. A woman claims to feel ugly or fat when her husband or boyfriend sees her as lovely and with a fine figure. What the man does not understand is that these views of self by their women are couched in depression and not mirrored in reality. To wit, the negative self image serves to exacerbate the depression. It’s a vicious circle. This is not just relating to physical appearance, and also manifests in women feeling as though they are inadequate wives, incapable mothers or imperfect friends.
- Excessive crying. This often occurs for no explicable reason and can go on for hours, or even days in extreme cases. For some women, emotional displays of crying are fairly normal; for others, crying is far more controlled, usually reserved for serious matters such as loss, grief, and genuine sadness. If a woman is crying more than normal, for no apparent (or justifiable) reason, or exhibiting longer periods of crying, this may indicate depression.
- Lack of sexual desire. Again, this is only apt to be a sign of depression in women who are otherwise normally interested in intimacy with their sexual partners. Other factors, too, can cause a weak libido, but when it is combined with other symptoms as cited herein, this is a reasonable indicator.
- Unexplained, significant weight gain or loss. As long as eating habits have not shifted to any extent, or regular exercise has been stopped, weight gain or loss should be minimal. Conversely, in women with depression, appetite may be affected and result in large adjustments in body weight.
- Diminished energy levels and lack of motivation. This boils down to lethargy and it shows, especially when a woman is normally vibrant and lively. In its extreme, this symptom can be debilitating.
The verbal reiteration of dissatisfaction with life may be expressed by women suffering depression. Women, more so than men, are prone to talk about what ails or upsets them, and this may be the earliest indicator that something is amiss and a preliminary trajectory towards clinical depression is in the works. If this discourse falls to talk of feeling hopeless or thoughts of suicide, action needs to be taken swiftly. Many women who speak of suicide find that expressing that level of frustration actually helps them, but some will go on to attempt to end their lives. If you or a woman you know utters such words, get help. Don’t try to manage such a strong statement or feeling of desperation on your own.
How Does Depression Manifest in Older and Geriatric Women?
The signs of depression in women over 50 and well into their 90s is of a narrow description and tends to be more deeply related to post-menopausal hormones, and the circumstances of aging and overall reduced good health.
Menopause causes yet another grand shift in the hormonal balance of women, and can cause depression. While many women report euphoria at the absence of monthly periods, and the freedom that accompanies it, this also signals the confirmed end of the child-bearing years, and to some women that is more than just a sign of inevitable old age. Certain medications that are used as hormone replacement therapy are known to have depressive side-effects. Women tend, also, to lose one or both parents during this period in their lives, and some also lose their spouses to death or divorce. Menopause is a volatile time for women and depression, even if they have never experienced it before, can set in.
Geriatric women have a litany of issues that can lead to depression. The signs of depression in elderly women are largely derived from circumstances such as facing the demise of their lives, widowhood, financial hardship, physical illness and infirmity, and in some cases distance from family and friends. The signs of depression in women over 70 include:
- frustration over memory loss
- regret and anger
- difficulty making decisions and then resentment when others (such as an adult child or power-of-attorney) handle decisions on their behalf
- unwillingness to be social or communicate freely
- lack of motivation and focus
- losing things (this can also be simply a function of geriatric-related memory loss, but combined with other signs, may indicate depression)
- lack of interest in personal hygiene
- reduced appetite
Older and geriatric women often have to handle their affairs alone, given that statistics show most women live as widows for about 18 years. For those who relied upon their spouses to manage the family’s money, there may be fear and uncertainty, and that can trigger depression. Many older and geriatric women develop feelings of hopelessness, believing they are too old to start again; this is a sure sign of depression in aged women.
Indications of Depression in Pregnant Women
Many obstetricians and gynecologists believe that all women who become pregnant suffer some level, however small, of depression at some point during their nine months of the baby’s gestation. Hormones change dramatically during each trimester of pregnancy, and this alone can trigger bouts of depression; some women will feel guilty about this given the “happy event” they are experiencing. Hormones shift so powerfully and so quickly during pregnancy that women sometimes suffer a bout of depression before they are even aware they are having a baby. What should be (by societal standards) a joyful period in life is often rife with fear, sorrow, and therefore depression.
Dr. Thomas R. Verny, a psychiatrist who specializes in pre-natal psychiatry, and is widely published, lectures on the subject at universities around the world. He has seen an increasing number of women in these days of widespread infertility suffer depression out of the anxiety that they will miscarry their baby, especially if that has occurred during a previous pregnancy. He counsels women to avoid triggers for depression, such as stress, poor nutrition and insomnia, when they become pregnant, and recommends they put positive behaviors into practice even when they are trying to conceive.
Signs of Depression in Pregnant Women May Include:
- extreme exhaustion (more than just the normal tiredness associated with carrying a child)
- sleep disorders
- excessive frequency of crying and extreme crying
- inexplicable mood swings
- inability to focus
- inordinate fear of miscarriage
- debilitating behavior such as staying in bed all day (unless ordered by a doctor)
Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the best times in a woman’s life, full of joys and planning, but there can be depression triggered by worries such as being able to afford to support a child, raising a child alone (if there is no father present), or other issues. What appears to occur is that stress centers like these manifest more deeply when a woman’s hormones are dealing with a pregnancy, and it becomes easier to slide into full-scale clinical depression.
Post-partum depression is one of the better known depressions associated with pregnant women following the delivery of their baby. Their lives may appear to be in perfect order and a healthy baby may have arrived, but the post-birth phase is a common onset for depression, not to be eschewed as a “bad mood” or other manageable state of mind. Post-partum depression can be very serious and lead to suicide or worse. Never ignore the signs of post-partum depression in yourself or others.
Managing Depression in Women
Never attempt to make a self-diagnoses of depression or diagnose another person unless you are a professional family doctor or psychiatrist. There are effective treatments for women with depression at any age and stage of their lives.
There are effective ways to ward off the possible onslaught of depression in women and they are largely comprised of good sense. Eat well (whole foods are best; avoid processed foodstuffs), get enough sleep, and stay fit or at the very least get a little exercise each day. If you live in a northern climate, take a daily dose of vitamin D (1,000 IU, approximately), avoid caffeinated beverages, all hard liquor (one glass of wine per day, unless you are pregnant) will probably do you more good than harm), and refined sugar. Some experts suggest that bananas and apples are positive mood enhancers, and they’re healthy, too, so go ahead and make them part of your daily diet. And if you like the taste, a small square of at least 70% cocoa dark chocolate is both a mood lifter, a treat and an anti-oxidant!
Women are many things to many people. Mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and girlfriends, as well as working professionals and caregivers. Life can become overwhelming for women with a tendency to give without condition. This can lead to depression. Women with this tendency are advised to take care of themselves first. The analogy is that when you are in a commercial aircraft, the flight attendants tell you that in the case of an emergency don your oxygen mask first and then help others. The point is, if you can’t breathe, you cannot assist anyone else. Women, in their effort to take care of people, sometimes forget this principle. Take a time out for yourself, write poetry, have a bubble bath (lock the bathroom door!), read a great book, or go to the spa for a massage and manicure. As superficial as these things may sound, they can help to prevent depression in women. Women are emotional and expressive beings; because of that the signs of depression in women are largely obvious and that may mean early treatment, always the best approach to managing depression in females.