“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare, 1600-01
Diagnosing Depression in Women
Did you know that women are twice as likely to experience depression as men? Did you know that 10 to 25 percent of women are at risk for suffering from depression over the course of their lifetimes?
Depression has many roots. It may result from a life circumstance (loss of a job, loss of a friend), or may be biologically driven. Whatever its origin, depression can be tough to manage and quite debilitating.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), there are a number of symptoms that define depression. These include:
- depressed mood (feelings of hopelessness and helplessness);
- sleep disturbances (insomnia or sleeping too much);
- appetite disturbances (eating too much or too little or complete loss of appetite);
- social withdrawal;
- feelings of worthlessness;
- difficulty concentrating; and
- memory problems.
Researchers have found a number of biological and sociological reasons for the higher incidence of depression among women. At different points in a woman’s life (such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause), hormonal changes can affect a woman’s mood. The specific biological link between hormones and depression is not well understood.
Sociological reasons also lead to depression among women. The American Psychological Association, in an article entitled, “What You Should Know About Women and Depression,” states, “One reason that men may suffer less from depression has to do with different coping styles. Men are more likely to employ action and mastery strategies, that is, to involve themselves in activities (work, sports, going out with friends) that both distract them from their worries and, perhaps, more importantly, give them a sense of power and control. Women, on the other hand, tend to ‘brood’ and dwell on their problems, often with other women.”
Treating Depression in Women
Psychotherapy has been helpful for women (and men) suffering from depression. Many types of therapy are available. These include:
- behavioral therapy, a type of treatment in which the therapist works with the woman to teach her new coping skills;
- psychodynamic therapy, an intensive form of therapy with an emphasis on determining underlying issues and concerns;
- interpersonal psychotherapy, which focuses on the woman’s interpersonal relationships and helps her to improve her interactive skills;
- cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which the emphasis is on treating the symptoms rather than the underlying issues and correcting negative thinking patterns; and
- feminist therapy, which seeks to empower a woman. Feminist therapists view a woman’s depression and other mental health problems as a symptom of cultural oppression.
Antidepressants also have been useful for women suffering from depression. Current medications that are frequently prescribed include the selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); among these are the medications Effexor, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft. Antidepressants must be prescribed by a physician and closely monitored. Women should not stop taking an antidepressant without consulting their physician.
St. John’s wort, an herbal remedy, also has been effective in treating mild versions of depression.
When depressed, it is often hard to get motivated; at the same time, inaction merely prolongs the problem. Once a woman decides to seek help, she has a good chance of feeling significantly better.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
What you should know about women and depression. (2000, February 17). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved February 17, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/depress.html