Identifying Depression in Women

Depression is more than just feeling sad. It isn’t something that can be wished or willed away, nor is it a sign that the individual is weak and they can just “get over it”. Clinical depression affects thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

by Mary Dressing, LPC-MH, RD, LN , Sanford Clinic Women’s Health Internal Medicine

Life seems to come at us fast! Our days are filled with ups and downs. But what if the “downs” stay with you too long, interfering with your ability to function in your life? It may be possible that you are struggling with a common, yet serious psychological illness – depression.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified depression as one of the most disabling disorders in the world. It is estimated 18 million people in the United States suffer from depression, and nearly two thirds do not get the help they need. Research indicates women are almost twice as likely to experience depression regardless of race, socio-economic and educational backgrounds. In some cases, there maybe a medical condition such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or other psychiatric disorders including anxiety, substance abuse or alcoholism that co-occur with the depression.

Depression is more than just feeling sad. It isn’t something that can be wished or willed away, nor is it a sign that the individual is weak and they can just “get over it”. Clinical depression affects thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Physically, women may experience extreme fatigue, sleep issues, aches and pains, and a change in appetite. Depression affects the ability to concentrate and make decisions, leaving women with feeling of failure and inadequacy. It can impact a woman’s mood with increased feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt and helplessness. The behavior may present as irritability or anger, pulling away socially and isolating, as well as loss of interest or pleasure in ones usual activities.

The specific causes of depression are not certain. Studies indicate depression is a brain disorder that may have genetic, hormonal or hereditary pathways. Certain personality characteristics may be associated with depression. It also appears that events in a woman’s life may increase her risk for depression. Factors that appear to have some influence on depression include:
• Puberty
• Pregnancy
• Menstrual cycles
• Perimenopause
• Interpersonal issues
• Substance abuse
• Trauma

Symptoms and intensity of symptoms vary depending on the severity of the depression. If depression is left untreated, the woman will continue to spiral downhill. This psychological illness has a high rate of suicide associated with it. If these symptoms have persisted for more than two weeks and are a change from usual functioning, it would be wise to be assessed by a mental health therapist or psychologist for depression.
The good news is that this is a treatable disease. The most common treatment plan for depression is psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Medication may be optional depending on the severity of the depression. Medication does not cure depression, but can relieve physical symptoms and help the person feel better. The therapy works on the cognitive thought process. It can help the individual sort out irrational thoughts, critical self talk and unreasonable expectations. Therapy may help repair damaged self esteem, offer support and create positive coping skills to help navigate through stress and life’s challenges.

A less traditional treatment plan includes desirable lifestyle changes. Research has been focusing on the effects of physical activity and nutrition in the area of depression. There is some encouraging evidence to suggest regular exercise (at least 3 times a week of moderately intense aerobic exercise for 30 minutes at a time), a diet which is low in saturated fat and stimulants, high in omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, fruits and vegetables as well as stress reducing techniques including breathing exercises and meditation, can have some positive effects on the depressed person.

Depression, especially in women is a serious problem. This disease is treatable and help is available. If you suspect depression may be present in your life, seek professional assistance to determine a plan that is right for you.