In our day-to-day lives, it’s become almost commonplace to talk about depression in general terms. We address it lightly and, sometimes, without knowing as much as we should about the subject. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few important facts about depression you should know in order to evaluate your own mental health.
For one thing, people frequently forget that there are many different types of depression. In reality, each person experiences it in a unique and exceptional way.
The first thing we should be clear about when facing or talking about depression is that we’re dealing with a serious condition. It’s not a personal whim. Thus, we should never think of it as something that reflects a weak personality or a lack of personal integrity or courage.
Depression is a disorder that must be treated by a professional, and ideally one who has an authentic and real bond to the person seeking help. This is the best way to make sure they don’t feel marginalized, alone or misunderstood.
However, one fact that you may not have been aware of is that, while both men and women frequently suffer from depression, they often experience it in very different ways.
Men are, generally speaking, more reluctant to seek help. This due to a variety of social norms and pressures.
After all, it’s not always easy to put your finger on a general feeling of internal malaise, apathy or the inability to get pleasure from activities you usually enjoy. All of which are common symptoms of depression. Sometimes, the clearest sign can be something as simple as an unexplained loss of energy.
The most common reaction reported among men during the onset of a depressive spell is to try to wave away the problem. Thus, many hope that it’s just a rough patch that will eventually disappear by itself.
Women, on the other hand, tend to have more tools to deal with and manage what they’re feeling. This is likely because women are more often socialized to communicate their emotions and vent their feelings.
Despite this, it’s women who, in general, have a greater tendency to develop depressive disorders.
Today, we want to take the time to delve deeper into this last aspect. Below, we’ll talk about the nuances that define how depression affects women in particular.
1. Depression as a Genetic Trait: A Risk Factor, Not a Determinant
According to Dr. Fumiko Hoeft from the University of California in the United States, mothers can pass a certain genetic predisposition to depression on to their daughters.
Specifically, what is passed on through the generations is a similar brain structure. In this article, the cortico-limbic system of the brain – the part that is responsible for managing our response to stress – shares similar architecture and patterns of internal connections.
However, the fact that a woman suffers from or has suffered a depression in the past does not mean that her daughter or daughters will inevitably suffer the same condition at some point in their lives.
- Scientific studies do show that there’s a higher risk, or at least a higher probability.
- However, this genetic risk must be taken into account alongside other variables that carry greater weight. These include the individual’s social environment, and how they deal with different experiences – good and bad – that they encounter over the course of their life.
2. Depression “Hurts” – And The Pain is Real
Why do we suffer from unexplained headaches?
When a woman is suffering from depression, it’s sadly common for the people around us – and society at large – to simply label it as feeling “sad.”
A feeling of sadness can be a very real part of depression. However, it’s important to be aware that this emotional state occupies just a small place within the spectrum of emotions that can be experienced during a depressive spell.
In fact, there are times when the person with depression does not even feel sad. In reality, she may feel angry, upset, out of control of her emotions… The list goes on.
In fact, the most common symptom of depression in women is not sadness. In fact, it’s often not any emotion – it’s physical.
Let’s have a look at some of the classic symptoms in more detail:
- Extreme exhaustion
- Muscle pain
- Greater sensitivity to physical pain
- Problems with digestion
- Small memory losses
- Sudden weight gain or loss
3. Certain Types of Depression are Unique to Women
In addition, there are certain types of depression that are only experienced by females. However, as we pointed out at the beginning, each woman will also experience even these more specific types of depression in a unique way.
Here are some of the types of depression that are unique to women:
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
Most people are familiar with the term “premenstrual syndrome.” it comes with the classic changes in mood and irritability that tend to appear in the few days running up to menstruation.
- However, there is a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
- Unfortunately, it can come with suicidal thoughts and intense pain in the joints and muscles.
Postpartum depression, sometimes called the “baby blues,” remains a taboo subject among many women. However, it’s very common.
Motherhood is associated with intense happiness and personal fulfillment. That’s why there is still stigma around postpartum depression, which can leave sufferers feeling even more misunderstood, or even rejected.
Postpartum depression is typically accompanied by anxiety and extreme exhaustion. Plus, it comes with a feeling of not being able to cope with the myriad responsibilities facing new mothers.
Depression in perimenopause
Perimenopause (or transition to menopause) is a normal phase in a woman’s life. However, it can sometimes be a very challenging one.
Mood swings, hot flushes, periods of irritability, anxiety, and the feeling that we’re no longer able to enjoy anything are far from uncommon during this time.
Thus, the risk of contracting other types of depression also rises during the transition into menopause.
4. Our Personal and Social Environment Plays A Role
Everyone – both men and women – is in need of a strong support network. We all need the understanding of those around us to help us manage and cope with the symptoms of depression.
However, the biggest problem many women encounter when they are struggling with depression is that there are so many other people depending on them.
Disproportionate numbers of women find themselves in the role of caregivers. Often, they’re supporting relatives who are financially dependent on them or suffering from other illnesses.
Others have the sole responsibility for taking care of children, and consider themselves the glue holding their families together. A common fear is that, if they “fail,” the family will fall apart, and the harmony they strive to achieve will be lost.
Personal circumstances like these can make it very difficult for women to get the support they need. Often, it’s difficult for them to even to take time for themselves to acknowledge the problem and seek treatment, whether that’s by going to therapy or simply dealing with their internal struggles.
That’s why it’s very common for women to simply tell themselves that “the pills are enough.”
However, we must keep it clear: any pills we take to manage the pain of life – whether it be physical or emotional – will never be enough by itself. We need to consider other strategies, too. Part of that must be ensuring that we have a sensitive and close support network.
Depression in women, as we’ve seen, comes along with a series of very special characteristics that we should take into consideration in our day-to-day life. This is important whether we’re dealing with it first-hand or trying to make sure we can help, comfort and support those who are.
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