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Depression in Women

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 12 million American women are hit by depression every year ' twice as many as men. The reasons women seem more prone to depression may lie not only in biological differences but alsoin the additional social challenges they face in our culture.

Depression during different life stages

At various stages in a woman's life, her hormones undergo significant changes - preparing for pregnancy, going through pregnancy and finally, facing the end of fertility during menopause. In fact, during every monthly menstrual cycle, most women go through several days of moodiness and physical discomfort often referred to as Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS.

A small percentage of women suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) in which these symptoms are so pronounced they affect a woman's ability to function at work and at home. Of course, not all women suffer depression during menstruation. Hormonal changes do not necessarily cause depression by themselves. But research still remains to be done on just what effect estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones involved with menstruation have on brain function.

Pregnancy

Depression in women may also be associated with pregnancy. First, there are hormonal changes that may contribute to overwhelming feelings of sadness. But in addition, pregnancy can be a mixed blessing for many women in our society. The mother-to-be may fear the pain of delivery or having a miscarriage. She may lack a support system to help her raise the baby or be dealing with a failing relationship with the baby's father. And even in the best of circumstances, the increased and ongoing responsibilities a woman faces in raising a baby can be a major stressor.

Postpartum depression

Half of all new mothers experience feelings of sadness, anger, and irritability shortly after giving birth. These feelings usually dissipate after delivery within a week or two. But for some women these emotions can be extremely intense. They may become overly anxious and even consider hurting themselves and their babies. This condition is called postpartum depression and it may be due to excessive fluctuation of hormones along with a genetic tendency to depression.Whatever its cause, it is very serious and needs immediate treatment.

Menopause

Hormones may also play a part in causing a woman to be depressed later in life. In addition to enduring physical symptoms such as hot flashes and bouts of irritability, menopausal women may feel they are less sexually desirable than they were when they were younger. They may also begin to doubt their own worth as their children grow up and start to have families of their own. These life changes coupled with a fluctuation and drop in estrogen levels can put some women at greater risk for clinical depression.

Social pressures can lead to depression

In our society women are the ultimate multi-taskers. Many hold down full time jobs while being the primary ' sometimes the only ' caregiver for young children and/or senior family members. In addition, a woman may have to cope with sexual and physical abuse, not to mention the very real issues of inequality of power, status, and compensation in the workplace. Any one of these situations could trigger a depression and all too frequently, a woman may be dealing with two or more of these stressors simultaneously.

Merln Hurd PhD; BCN, QEEGT

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