Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy

Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men.  Recently, the World Health Organization reported that depression poses the greatest risk for women compared to all other illnesses.  What makes depression so prevalent in the lives of women?

Often women do not recognize the common symptoms of depression until they are quite serious (persistent sad or anxious mood, loss of interest in usual activities, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, sleep/appetite changes, decreased energy, thoughts of self-injury, even suicide) – tending to attribute their symptom to other things.  There are some factors that seem to correlate with vulnerability toward depression.

We know that depression is often seen in families, suggesting a possible genetic component. Hormonal factors can also be involved, with key developmental times in a woman’s life leaving her particularly susceptible (puberty, adolescence, pregnancy and postpartum, menstrual cycles and menopause.)

Frequently depressions are the result of life stresses such as childhood trauma, violence or abuse in current relationships or other highly stressful past or current situations.  Sometimes, they are the result of chronic stresses such as poor health, but at other times, depression can follow a single incident — especially a serious personal loss or emotional hurt of other kinds. Alternatively, they can be triggered by such social factors as single parenting, lower pay in the job market, or racial and ethnic discrimination.

Women are sometimes socialized from childhood to have ways of viewing the world that can also contribute to depression such as difficulty with assertiveness (passivity), reluctance to “make waves” in relationships, or seek their own needs.  These women may not recognize they are depressed because they have never known more effective coping skills.

Some women also find setting limits with others so difficult that they become depressed as a result.  Women may discount symptoms of depression, attributing them instead to fatigue from work or family care.  It is not uncommon for depressed women to find ways to cope that are not in their own best interest—such as substance abuse, overeating, excessive spending,  isolation or over-functioning.

The important news it this: depression can be treated. Generally it is best dealt with by using some combination of psychotherapy and/or medication.  Doing some alternative things such as increased exercise, making lifestyle changes, etc, help, but when there is serious depression, an evaluation by a professional is needed to help make recommendations for the best course to take.

With depression, psychotherapy will often focus on interpersonal relationships (it may be individual, couple or family in approach), cognitive understandings, and improved coping techniques.  However, medication may be a necessary part of the treatment process as well. If you, or someone you know, is dealing with depression, consider making an appointment for an evaluation to discuss what specific treatment might be helpful for you.

Copyright Kathi Whitten 2008