Depression isn’t just a brief period where you feel sad or down about something. It’s a serious mood disorder that can affect your daily life. And it isn’t always easy to recognize or treat. You may not even realize that you’re dealing with depression until you’ve experienced symptoms for an extended period of time.
Although it can happen to anyone, women experience depression at nearly twice the rate that men do. Women also tend to experience depression differently than their male counterparts.
Some of the most common symptoms of female depression include:
- not enjoying the same hobbies or interests that you once did, or not getting the same amount of pleasure from these activities
- not being able to focus for very long
- losing your appetite regularly
- losing an abnormal amount of weight at one time
- feeling weak or exhausted with no clear cause
- feeling overwhelmingly guilty
- feeling like you’re not worth anything or are inadequate
- feeling anxious or irritable
- losing feelings of hope for the future
- crying without any specific cause
- not being able to sleep well at night
- having dramatic mood swings
- having thoughts about death
Men and women tend to experience different symptoms of depression. Some of these differences result from the hormonal differences between men and women.
Women experience dramatic hormonal changes during:
Other differences can be caused by different social norms for men and women. In places like the United States, men are expected to be tough and not always share how they’re feeling. Women, on the other hand, are often expected to be more openly emotional.
This tendency can cause both men and women to express their feelings of depression differently based on what they believe is socially acceptable for them to do or say.
To express their feelings, men may:
- show anger
- blame the people around them
- pick fights
- turn to destructive habits like drinking
- show sadness
- blame themselves
- turn to unhealthy habits like emotional eating
However, everyone experiences depression differently, so you may find that your symptoms aren’t easily lumped in any one category.
More factors can cause depression in women. In addition to biological and psychological causes, women can become depressed due to major life events, such as pregnancy and giving birth.
Some of the most common reasons that women experience depression include:
PMS and PMDD
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) happens right before you get your period. It’s not clear how exactly PMS causes depression. It’s thought that shifts in your hormones can influence the chemicals, such as serotonin, that contribute to your mood.
PMS symptoms are usually temporary. They include feeling bloated, getting headaches, and feeling like your breasts are tender to the touch. Depression and anxiety are sometimes symptoms of PMS, too.
Depression isn’t always a symptom of PMS. But in some cases, PMS symptoms like irritability and anxiety can become severe. At this point, PMS may become classified as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD is considered a form of depression.
Knowing when you usually get your period can help you figure out whether PMS or PMDD may be contributing to your symptoms of depression. You may find it beneficial to use a period tracking app like Glow or marking the dates on your calendar.
This type of depression happens when you’re pregnant or right after you have your baby. Depression that occurs after birth is usually called postpartum depression.
Your body’s hormones can change wildly while you’re pregnant and after birth. This can cause your moods to change or cause symptoms of anxiety and depression. These symptoms include trouble sleeping, suicidal thoughts, or feeling unable to take care of yourself or your baby.
Things happening in your life, such as relationship issues, a miscarriage, or not feeling supported by friends or family, can also make you feel more depressed during this time.
This type of depression happens when you transition into menopause. Major hormonal changes happen when you enter perimenopause and, eventually, menopause. As a result, you can experience symptoms of depression during this time.
Life events during perimenopause, such as relationship issues, stress at work or home, and having had postpartum depression, can all increase your risk of having depressive symptoms during perimenopause. Research shows that past trauma and negativity in your life may also contribute to perimenopausal depression.
Depression can also result from more broad concerns that can affect all genders.
The exact causes of depression aren’t well-known, but common possibilities include:
- major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, which was previously known as seasonal affective disorder, happens as seasons change and is most common during the winter
- imbalances in the chemicals in the brain or your hormones, such as serotonin or neurotransmitters
- thyroid conditions that cause changes in hormones
- family history of depression
- traumatic life events, such as the death of a loved one or end of an intimate relationship
- physical, mental, or emotional abuse by friends, family, or intimate partners
- long-term illness that keeps you from doing daily tasks or being able to work or go to school
Seeing a counselor or therapist can help give you a safe outlet for your feelings when you experience depression. Being able to describe your symptoms and identify a cause of depression in your life can help you understand how to respond more positively to that cause. Being able to talk to someone about feelings of guilt or shame that you have can also help prevent depressive symptoms from becoming worse.
Going outside for at least 30 minutes a day in sunlight can help with depression that results from seasonal changes in weather. Research suggests that not getting enough vitamin D from the sun or other sources may increase your risk of depression.
Exercising routinely and eating a healthy diet can also improve your mood and make depressive symptoms less severe. If stress is causing your depression, doing activities that help you feel calm, such as meditation or yoga, can relieve some symptoms of depression.
Surrounding yourself with healthy, positive people is especially important for coping with symptoms of depression. If your friends, family members, or even coworkers are causing you stress or making your depressive symptoms worse, consider spending less time with these people or remove them from your life entirely. Family and social support is crucial to being able to cope and manage depression.
Sometimes, making lifestyle changes or limiting your exposure to people or things that stress you out isn’t enough to relieve symptoms of depression. This is especially true if your depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or by family genetics.
If you’ve tried to change your life or reduce stressors and your symptoms haven’t gone away, see your doctor or schedule an appointment with a counselor or therapist.
You may need to take antidepressants if your symptoms are severe or debilitating. Taking medication isn’t a crutch. In many cases, medication may help balance chemicals or hormones. This can help you navigate your day-to-day without feeling as though depressive symptoms are interfering with your life and your relationships.