Signs Of Depression In Women

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of ten women in the US live with depression. Depression is more common in women than men, potentially due to the stigma about men reaching out for support. However, knowing the unique ways depression can occur in women can help prevent worsening symptoms.

Recognize and explore the symptoms of depression with a professional

What depressive disorders can women experience? 

Women can be diagnosed with any depressive disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Below are a few of the diagnoses women might receive. Note that individuals of any gender identity can experience these conditions, but how they are experienced may differ. 

Major depressive disorder

Major depressive disorder is a severe depressive disorder that may involve social isolation, prolonged sadness, apathy, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Depression isn't "feeling down" or a temporary period of the "blues." 

In women, major depressive disorder is often associated more with sadness, withdrawal, and self-harm symptoms. These symptoms can differ from those of men, who may be more likely to experience rage or substance use disorders alongside depression. However, women can also live with irritability and substance use. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Peri-partum and post-partum depression 

Many women experience peripartum (from conception) and post-partum (after birth) depression (PPD). This depressive disorder is different from what might be called "baby blues." 

If you've given birth, hormonal reactions can lead to temporary sadness and unease. However, if you're living with PPD, your depression symptoms can last for months up to a year. PPD can begin during pregnancy, as well. Non-gestational partners or parents can also experience PPD, as well as adoptive or foster parents. 

Some women may not realize they're living with PPD, which can be dangerous. With a lack of sleep, difficulty finding time for self-care, and a significant transition, PPD can lead to suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and harm to the baby. It can be beneficial to know that you're not alone in these experiences and that help is available. Professional treatment for PPD is often highly effective

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Another form of depression that some women experience is premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This form of depression occurs due to the menstrual cycle of people with gynecological reproductive systems. It can cause mood swings, maladaptive thoughts, anxiety, and depression in one to two weeks leading up to a period. 

While some people consider this condition PMS depression, it is not the same. Premenstrual syndrome is a less-severe concern that may occur a few days before a period and is not often associated with depression. PMDD is not a PMS mental health issue, as it impacts daily functioning severely.

Perimenopause depression

Another form of depression that women with a gynecological system experience is perimenopause depression. Menopause and depression can be related to each other, and many individuals going through menopause experience depression. 

While it can be normal to experience mood swings, difficulty sleeping, and hot flashes, severe depression that occurs "out of nowhere" may not be normal. If you're experiencing symptoms of depression in this stage of your life, treat it as depression and not a symptom of perimenopause. These symptoms might include overwhelming sadness, anxiety, irritability, or the loss of enjoyment of previously enjoyed activities.

Signs of depression

While some signs of depression are the same regardless of gender, there are differences to watch for. Understand that depression does not look the same in every person. Some women experience one group of symptoms, while others have a completely different experience.

Below are a few of the most common signs of depression in women:

  • Hopelessness 
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Low energy levels and fatigue
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Increased difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness 
  • Loneliness 
  • A feeling of emptiness or apathy 
  • Irritability 
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Women may also experience physical symptoms of depression, including the following: 

  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Cramps
  • Muscle fatigue

What causes depression in women?

There may not be a clear indicator as to what causes the onset of depression for each person. Some people can trace it back to a specific event or situation that happened in their life, such as the loss of a loved one or the end of a job. Others might not find a reason. 

At times, working with a therapist can help women understand their depression. Depression can have a 40% to 50% hereditary factor, so having a history of depression in your immediate family can be an indicator. However, finding a cause might not be the focus of therapy. Often, a therapist can treat symptoms without knowing the cause. 

Some women will experience depression once in their lives, and others experience it as a reoccurring challenge. It may improve or worsen throughout your life. Regardless of whether your depression is consistent or temporary, speaking to a professional can help you develop a treatment plan and safety structure at home so you can be prepared for future episodes or worsening symptoms. 

Lifestyle changes to manage depression as a woman 

Depression is a treatable mental health disorder. If you're experiencing the symptoms above, contact a licensed therapist for support. In addition, consider starting a self-care routine of lifestyle changes to manage symptoms as a supplement to therapy. You're not alone, and there are ways to revitalize your life.  

Nutrition 

Proper nutrition can boost mood. Some women with depression experience a change in their appetite, whether they crave food more or less often. Ensure you're making healthy food choices even when experiencing symptoms of a depressive disorder. If you're not hungry, try setting up a snack cart with healthy bite-sized snacks you can easily available on your worst days. You can also consider asking a friend, partner, or family member to help you prepare meals. 

Exercise 

Studies show that regular exercise improves mental health substantially. Taking time out of your day for physical activity increases the "feel-good" endorphins in your brain that impact your mood. If you aren't motivated to start, choose a low-impact activity like walking, hiking, swimming, or spending 30 minutes at the gym. 

Sleep 

Try your best to get a healthy amount of sleep and fall asleep at the same time each night. If you're struggling with falling asleep, you can try natural remedies like deep breathing exercises and meditation. If you feel the need to sleep all day, set an alarm and put your alarm across the room. You'll have to stand to turn off your alarm when you wake up. You can then wash your face with cold water to wake you up from your sleepiness and get ready for your day.

Recognize and explore the symptoms of depression with a professional

Talk to a professional 

Licensed therapists are trained to recognize symptoms of depression and aid people in changing their lives positively. They can provide evidence-based therapeutic education and support you in developing coping skills. If you're struggling with depression, reaching out for help can be essential. Depressive symptoms may be difficult to manage independently. 

If you face barriers to in-person therapy due to income, location, or the time you need, you can try contacting a provider through a platform like BetterHelp. With an online therapist, you can find a provider for a lower price and connect outside of standard business hours. You can also match with a provider specifically specializing in treating women with depression. 

Studies back up the effectiveness of internet-based interventions. One study found that online therapy could reduce symptoms of stress and depression in individuals going through menopause. Some research has also found online therapy more effective in treating depression than face-to-face options. 

Takeaway

Women can have unique experiences with depression, but depression is severe and should be taken seriously by anyone of any gender. If you're living with symptoms of depression, take them seriously. Consider contacting a compassionate provider online or in your area to get started.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

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