By Megan Gunnell - Special to Daily Tribune March 29, 2009
Understanding symptoms of depression in women can be the first step towards seeking effective treatment and learning new coping strategies. Women with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same set of symptoms with the same frequency, duration or intensity. In fact, there are many unanswered questions when it comes to understanding the complexity of depression and why women generally are at higher risk for being diagnosed.
What we do know is that there are many contributing factors that lead to a diagnosis of depression for women. These include not only a genetic history, hormonal and chemical changes, but also environmental and psychosocial factors. Women typically juggle multiple roles in their lives and the challenge of balancing work and family can, at times, create a strain. Women are particularly vulnerable to depression after childbirth or during menopause when hormonal changes as well as the impact of such significant life transitions can illuminate features of depression including mood changes, irritability, changes in sleep or appetite, or feelings of emptiness.
We know that stress and stressful life events such as significant changes in relationships or major life transitions, the loss of a loved one, serious illness or traumatic events can also trigger a depressive episode. Typically women carry the role of primary caregiver, and added work or home responsibilities can also strain our resources and resiliency making it more difficult to cope with stressful life events.
At times of significant stress, women can experience “situational depression” without having any previous history or features of the illness. What’s important to recognize, however, is that no matter the severity or duration of symptoms, depressive illness can be treated.
Treatment options can include medication, psychotherapy, group therapy and holistic approaches such as increasing self-care, improving exercise and nutrition, as well as incorporating spirituality or relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga.
While our culture overall continues to understand mental health needs, we need to work harder toward reducing the stigma associated with mental health care. Media images that portray mental health disorders unrealistically only perpetuate the stigma attached and deter those experiencing symptoms from seeking help.
We would never deny someone with a physical illness their medication or treatment. For example, we would never pass judgment on someone with diabetes requiring insulin, or a cancer patient seeking chemotherapy for treatment. Therefore, we, as a community, need to recognize that similar to a physical health concern, mental health diagnoses require treatment and at times, medication management. Understanding depression can help reduce the stigma and misunderstanding associated with the illness.
Psychotherapy can provide a safe place to process issues related to a depression with an objective trained professional to provide support and feedback. By learning new coping strategies and new ways of thinking and behaving, women often find ways to change patterns that have contributed to their depression. Taking steps to help yourself or someone you know who suffers from depression should not be seen as defeat, but rather a commitment to yourself and to the important first step toward feeling better.