How Depression Affects Women
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more women than men are diagnosed with depression every year. The reason for this difference is unknown, mostly because we don't have a full understanding of what causes depression in either gender. An argument can be made that women and men actually suffer depression in equal numbers, but that women are more likely to reach out for help and be diagnosed. However, that hypothesis does not explain disorders like postpartum depression and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, both unique to women. Or, the mystery of why depression rates are about the same for boys and girls prior to puberty, after which the rate for girls becomes double the rate for boys.
Depression is a very individual disease, and the exact causes are going to be different in every case. That said, it's believed that depression in women is caused by physical, societal and emotional factors.
Women's hormone levels change at several points during their lives: at puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, during the transition to menopause and during menopause. Women are vulnerable to depression both postpartum and during the transition to menopause (perimenopause). We don't yet understand the correlation between hormonal changes and depression, but experts believe that that hormonal changes are a factor in depression in women.
Women are at a greater risk than men from domestic abuse and sexual assault, and the by-products of these experiences are low self-esteem, self-blame and a sense of helplessness. In addition, studies have shown that social conditioning in general can leave women with a low sense of self-worth and competence. Stress is believed to be a contributor to depression, and experts have theorized that the particular stresses that women may deal with (greater responsibilities at home, single parenthood, being a caregiver to elderly parents) may account for the higher incidence of depression among women as compared to men.
Women tend to be mental ruminators, and this activity is thought to contribute to clinical depression. Ruminating is the flip side of worry. When you worry, you obsess over things that haven't happened (and might not happen). When you ruminate, you think about things that have happened, try to figure out their significance, and think about what you might have said or done instead. While a certain amount of reflection on past events is healthy and even helpful, focusing your attention persistently on something that you can't or won't change isn't constructive, and can contribute to depression.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Some women, about 3 to 5 percent of women in America, are susceptible to a severe form of Premenstrual Syndrome called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS, but their severity is such that they interfere with work, social activities and relationships. In addition, the majority of PMDD symptoms tend to be emotional, while PMS symptoms are more balanced between physical and emotional. PMDD is treatable with medication and therapy.