Every one of us, in our lifetime, feels sad on many occasions but this usually passes away after a couple of days. But when this feeling becomes persistent, we may most likely suffer from depression. In medical terminology, depression is actually a mood disorder with persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness and irritability. It affects both men and women, in different degrees and severity. But it has been seen time and again that depression is more likely to be common in women than men. But why there is a gender gap? Psychological studies did try to probe some of the factors in this regard. Woman in her lifetime do go through a number of challenges like hormonal and reproductive changes along with social pressure and responsibility. Moreover, female response to stress is different from men.
Researches have already stated that certain factor like hormonal fluctuations is responsible for incidence of depression being more prevalent in women. Changes in hormonal levels start in women since their puberty days. They attain puberty earlier than boys do. Teenage girls have higher risk of developing depression more than boys due to coping with reasons like identity crisis, conflict with parents, newly acquired sexuality and also pressure to perform well in academics or other activities. Again in women, there are factors relating to the menstrual cycle which can trigger depression like hormonal variations during the menstrual cycle which can cause pre menstrual symptoms of fatigability, irritability or emotional reactivity. Usually these symptoms are very mild and go away with each menstrual cycle. But in some women, symptoms can be so severe that it can lead to premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) (a severe form of premenstrual symptoms) which can disrupt their routine life and would require professional help. Apart from this, there are other hormonal levels changes that a woman goes through her lifetime like during her pregnancy, postpartum phase (after childbirth), perimenopausal phase (a stage prior to the onset of menopause) and menopause. The risk of depression is high in women at all these stages as there are rapid hormonal fluctuations. In early menopause and menopausal stage, the risk is very high as the estrogens level is significantly reduced and progesterone level is high. Female sex hormone like progesterone stimulates the stress hormone system more unlike in men.
Besides these, there are other psychological factors in women which can contribute to depression. Like, women tend to over think, ruminate more which can lead to more negative feelings unlike men. More rumination and recurring thoughts can lead to intense tension, sadness or repeated bouts of crying. Unlike in women, men respond to stress in a different way. They tend to distract themselves from the situation which helps them to release the tension faster. Other factors which can also be responsible for depression in women are like positive family history of mood disorder, physical or sexual abuse and societal stress (like work over load, domestic responsibility, and low self esteem). Relationship problems like divorce, separation and reproductive stress like infertility, miscarriage or unwanted pregnancy can also be the causes. There are also medication related side effects like birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy which are considered as risk factors. Depression in women is found to be more related to seasonal changes (like winter depression), eating disorder like bulimia or anorexia and panic disorder (like anxiety, fear and panic attacks).
Although depression is found to be common in women but it can happen to anyone in any degree and severity. The best part is that the condition is very much treatable. Even, the severe cases of depression with proper treatment management can help the person to return to his normal life. The treatment of depression in general depends on the types and severity of cases. Different types of treatments are used like anti depressants medications, psychotherapy (counselling, talk therapy), electric shock therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (a therapy where the person is taught to recognize his negative thoughts and replace them with healthier and positive thoughts). In case of woman, the depression effects which comes at different stages in her life can be dealt with ease by being connected to family, friends, seeking emotional support from family members ,engaging in any kind of hobby or creative activity , undisturbed sleep, eating healthy, exercising regularly and self calming techniques like yoga and meditation. Sometimes, in spite of all our efforts, we still have the persistent feeling of sadness, mood swings, agitation or withdrawal; than we should go for professional help as soon as possible. Therefore, earlier is the treatment, faster will be the recovery.
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A Medical Professional who likes writing on health related topics.