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Depression in Women: When it’s More than Just Feeling Blue

Monday, May 9, 2022

We’ve all felt sad before. It’s a normal reaction to the stressors of daily life. But, if your sadness lasts more than a couple of weeks, it could be depression.

Depression is more than just a passing mood or feeling blue — it’s a serious and common medical condition.

“Depression is much different and more severe than normal sadness. It completely impairs one’s ability to function,” said Suja Raju, psychiatrist at Iredell Psychiatry.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), this medical condition affects nearly 21 million Americans. And while depression can affect any person at any stage of their lives, it is almost twice as common in women. About 1 in 8 women will develop it during their lifetime.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and National Women’s Health Week begins today. During this week, raising awareness of depression in women and encouraging these women to seek help is essential.

While it’s not completely clear why depression is more common in women, factors such as biological differences, certain medical conditions, social issues, and work and family demands may play a part.

“Women go through different stages in their life where you see depression being pretty common, whether that’s teenage girls, postpartum women, or elderly women,” said Raju.

Throughout these different stages, from menstrual cycles, to childbirth, to menopause — women experience hormonal fluctuations and physical changes, both of which can contribute to depression.

In fact, according to NIMH, certain types of depression are unique to women. These include premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which is a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), prenatal and postpartum depression, and perimenopausal depression, which occurs during the transition into menopause.

Of these types, you have probably heard the most about postpartum depression. According to the American Psychological Association, up to 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression following their baby’s birth.

“There are postpartum blues that may happen soon after having a baby and last for a couple of weeks. However, when this persists beyond a month and manifests with symptoms of depression, we would call that postpartum depression. It often impairs a mother’s ability to take care of themselves as well as their baby,” said Raju.

Is it depression?
With depression, symptoms occur nearly every day and last more than two weeks.

“Depression is characterized by having low mood, lack of interest, and lack of motivation,” said Raju.

Other symptoms of depression include:

  • Fatigue
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Sleeping problems
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or excessive guilt
  • Decreased ability to think or concentrate
  • Repeated thoughts of death or suicide
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause
  • Frequent crying

If you notice any of these symptoms, do not hesitate to make an appointment with your provider for an evaluation. Unfortunately, according to Mental Health American, less than half of women with depression seek help for their illness.

Is depression treatable?
Despite the belief that someone can just “be happier,” depression is a medical condition that tends to stay around until properly treated.

Fortunately, by seeking help, even severe depression, can be treated. If a woman is experiencing depression, their provider may refer them to a mental health specialist. The mental health specialist may treat them with medication, psychotherapy or talk therapy, or a combination of both.

There are several types of antidepressant medications, and since depression affects everyone differently, someone may need to try more than one to see what works best for them.

“Psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy (medication) is the way to go. Combining the two is proven to be beneficial in treating mood disorders such as depression,” said Raju.

In addition to talk therapy and medication, Raju recommends healthy activities to reduce symptoms, such as exercising.

“Exercising a couple of days a week helps get your endorphins going. Even getting outside and taking a walk helps,” she said.

How can I help?
If you notice the symptoms of depression in a friend or family member, it’s important to provide support and encourage them to seek help.

“Providing support and just being there for them is crucial. Give them a call and ask how their day was. Just do as much as you can to be there for them,” said Raju.

According to NIMH, you can help your friend or loved one by inviting them out for walks or outings and reminding them that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.

“Whichever stage of life you’re in, whether that’s as a mom, a wife, or a student, you want to function to your best ability and be happy. Getting the help you need is going to help you get there,” said Raju.

Raju practices at Iredell Psychiatry and is accepting new patients. If you would like to learn more or schedule an appointment with Dr. Raju, please call 704-380-3620.