Feeling low. A case of the blues. Down in the dumps.
You can call depression whatever you want.
The important question is, are you dealing with it?
About 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year, according to Mental Health America (MHA).
Though depression can be a frightening and lonely condition, it is also a very treatable one. The keys are knowing there is a problem and being willing to ask for help.
Women are about twice as likely as men to have clinical depression, according to MHA. The reasons are not clear, but some contributing factors may include:
Biological differences. From menstrual cycles to childbirth to menopause, women face a variety of hormonal fluctuations and reproductive and physical changes that may contribute to depression.
Social issues. Women face increased rates of poverty, says Elaine Rodino, PhD, a fellow of the American Psychological Association. In addition, she says, women are "more likely to have been abused physically or sexually in childhood, which may have repercussions later on in terms of depression."
Work and family demands. There are many factors related to both professional and family life that can add to risk for depression. Women are more likely to bear the burden of single parenthood. For married women, responsibilities such as caring for children and aging parents while working full time may also contribute to stress and depression.
A truly disturbing fact about women with depression is that less than half of them seek help for their illness, notes MHA.
The reasons for not seeking help vary. Some women are in denial about the illness. Others are too embarrassed or ashamed. Some women also believe that depression is normal at certain times of life, such as during menopause. Still others may think that, unless their feelings last for many months, they aren't really depressed.
Whatever the reasoning, delaying treatment is not a wise decision.
"The sooner you get help, the sooner [depression] can be short-circuited," Dr. Rodino says. Left untreated, depression often becomes worse as time passes—and more incapacitating, she adds.
What to watch for
According to MHA, you may have clinical depression if you experience symptoms for at least two weeks. Symptoms include:
- Ongoing feelings of sadness, anxiety or emptiness.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Losing appetite and losing weight.
- Increased appetite and weight gain.
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, including sex.
- Feeling restless or irritable.
- Trouble concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
- Ongoing physical ailments that don't get better when treated. These may include headaches, digestive problems and chronic pain.
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness.
- Thinking of suicide or death.
For women who have already been treated for depression, it's important to realize that the illness may sometimes recur, notes Dr. Rodino. If you're becoming depressed, seek help right away.
For more information about women and depression, visit the MHA website.