15 million. That’s how many people struggle with depression each year in the US alone. Compared to their male counterparts, women are twice as likely to face this mental health issue.

Why is that so? What puts them at a higher risk?
How to recognize signs of depression in women?
What can we do to support women in our lives?

In today’s article, we open a discussion on depression among women, list common signs, and explore its causes, including hormonal changes, life events, and social factors. Lastly, we share practical ways on how you can support women who might be battling depression. Let’s get started.

Depression Among Women: Risk Factors

Both men and women experience depression. However, there’s a significant gender gap, and to understand it, we need to take a closer look at the root causes that increase the risk of this mental health issue among women:

Biological Factors

1. Earlier onset of puberty:

Girls entering puberty earlier than boys are more likely to struggle with depression, which often causes:

  • mood swings,
  • identity issues,
  • body image issues,
  • interpersonal problems.

2. Hormonal changes, i.e., during menopause, can lead to:

  • increased mood swings,
  • irritability,
  • insomnia,
  • memory and focus issues.

3. Menstrual cycle:

Hormonal fluctuations before and during menstruation contribute to issues such as:

  • bodily (particularly abdominal) pains
  • headaches
  • significant mood swings
  • irritability
  • depressive symptoms

For many women, these hormonal changes disrupt the functioning of serotonin, a hormone responsible for mood control, leading to:

  • PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)
  • in some cases: PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), a type of depression that should be treated psychiatrically.

Social Factors

1. Role strain effect:

  • While many social scripts regarding men and women are changing and we live in exciting times, there’s a lot of inequality (i.e., the gender pay gap) and many unrealistic standards that women are held up to.
  • The role strain effect happens when an individual struggles to fulfill the societal roles expected of them.
  • There are societal expectations that women should be perfect mothers and housewives while developing their careers and exceeding in the professional sphere, which often leads to developing depressive symptoms and burnout.

2. Social norms:

  • Stereotypes around men pressure them to act tough, never cry, and not talk about their emotional struggles. Women, in turn, are expected to cultivate emotional openness and express their feelings outwardly.
  • As a consequence, there’s a common unhealthy belief in society that:
    • men are wired to show anger, start conflict, and blame others for their mistakes.
    • women shouldn’t express their rage or be assertive. However, crying, feeling guilty, and engaging in self-destructive habits like emotional eating is socially acceptable.

3. Unique stressors:

  • Did you know that men and women are likely to stress about different things in life?
  • This study explains how women are at an 80% higher risk of developing depressive symptoms when experiencing issues linked to their children, housing, and reproduction.

female depression factors

Life Events

1. Pregnancy and giving birth:

    • Being pregnant for a woman means going through drastic changes when it comes to her body, hormonal levels, emotions, and so much more. What can also make your mental state more fragile is facing additional stressors during these 9 months, i.e.:
      • relationship issues with the baby’s parent,
      • financial instability,
      • poor social support,
      • bodily issues like morning sickness or sleep disturbance,
      • infertility issues/miscarriage.
  • Unfortunately, for many women, giving birth is a traumatic experience due to many factors, such as the quality of medical care, unforeseen complications, and a threat to their or their baby’s life.

2. Postpartum depression/baby blues:

  • While going through mood swings or feeling irritable during the first couple weeks postpartum is normal, lingering symptoms indicate a more significant mental health issue, such as postpartum depression, affecting around 10% of women.
  • It can involve
    • deep feeling of guilt (“I’m a horrible mother”)
    • suicidal thoughts,
    • feeling like you don’t love your baby or like you want to harm them,
    • emotional numbness,
    • insomnia,
    • prolonged, involuntary crying.

3. Sexual/physical abuse

  • Statistics show how women, compared to men, are much more likely to become victims of sexual or physical abuse at some point in their lives.
  • Naturally, experiencing such a traumatic event increases the risk of developing mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders (often comorbid with depression among women).

3 Ways to Support Women with Depression

1. Educate Yourself

  • A new mother might love her baby so much and still feel heartbroken over the freedom and independence she lost.
  • A young girl going through her puberty before her classmates possibly feel confused about her bodily changes.
  • A woman facing menopause might struggle with accepting the passage of time and is likely to feel shame about getting older.

Knowledge and awareness are a gateway to understanding certain issues and empathizing with people affected by them.

By educating yourself on the causes of depression in women, you can see them in a new light. You are more likely to recognize when they’re at a higher risk of going through emotional hardships.

2. Offer Your Help

Oftentimes, the best thing you can do is offer practical help and take some things off of their plate. As discussed before, women tend to experience the role strain effect and bite more than they can chew.

When that state is prolonged, it puts them at a higher risk of experiencing:

  • burnout
  • exhaustion
  • mood swings
  • cognitive issues (memory, focus, control).

You can start small by taking the initiative, i.e.:

  • do some chores around the house, like cleaning their kitchen,
  • offer to babysit their child while they have a night out/stay in and relax,
  • restock their pantry and do some groceries.

3. Active Listening

Depression can lock you in a vicious cycle, where your feelings of loneliness, shame, and inadequacy push you to avoid social interactions and isolate yourself further.

One of the ways to counteract that is to offer your support and let them know you’re there for them, whether it be talking on the phone, meeting in a cafe, or simply coming over to sit in silence together.

If your female friend or partner decides to open, and talk about their issues, make sure to practice active listening. That means refraining from:

  • judgment,
  • interrupting them,
  • giving unsolicited advice.

Instead, focus on creating safe space by empathizing and asking respectful questions, being a supportive friend, and letting them know you’re there for them.

Get Professional Help with Harbor Psychiatry

While an intimate heart-to-heart conversation can be very beneficial, it will not replace the professional help you could get from an experienced psychologist.

If you or another woman in your life is struggling with mental health issues like depression, we want to let you know that it’s okay not to feel okay. There’s no shame in facing mental and emotional hardships.

We’re here, at Harbor Psychiatry, to:

  • assist you on the journey to mental well-being,
  • provide a safe outlet for your emotions and difficult experiences,
  • identify your issues and help you manage them.

We invite you to take charge of your mental health, and contact us here.