What are the different forms of depression?
More women than men get depression. It is a serious illness, and most women who have it need treatment to get better. The most common types of depression are:
• Major depression — severe symptoms that interfere with a woman's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. An episode of major depression may occur only once in a person's lifetime. But more often, a person can have several episodes.
• Dysthymic disorder or dysthymia — depressive symptoms that last a long time (2 years or longer), but less severe than those of major depression.
• Minor depression — similar to major depression and dysthymia, but symptoms are less severe and may not last as long.
What are some factors that can cause depression in women?
Brain chemistry and hormones
People with depression have different brain chemistry than those of people without the illness.
During certain times of a woman's life, her hormones (which control emotions and mood) may be changing, which may affect her brain chemistry. For example, after having a baby (postpartum period), hormones and physical changes may be overwhelming. Some women experience postpartum depression, a serious form of depression that needs treatment. Other times of hormonal change, such as transition into menopause, may increase a woman's risk for depression.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
Some women may be susceptible to a severe form of premenstrual syndrome called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Women affected by PMDD typically experience depression, anxiety, irritability and mood swings the week before menstruation, in such a way that interferes with their normal functioning. Women with debilitating PMDD do not necessarily have unusual hormone changes, but they do have different responses to these changes.4 They may also have a history of other mood disorders and differences in brain chemistry that cause them to be more sensitive to menstruation-related hormone changes. Scientists are exploring how the cyclical rise and fall of estrogen and other hormones may affect the brain chemistry that is associated with depressive illness.5,6,7
Women are particularly vulnerable to depression after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. Many new mothers experience a brief episode of mild mood changes known as the "baby blues," but some will suffer from postpartum depression, a much more serious condition that requires active treatment and emotional support for the new mother. One study found that postpartum women are at an increased risk for several mental disorders, including depression, for several months after childbirth.8
Some studies suggest that women who experience postpartum depression often have had prior depressive episodes. Some experience it during their pregnancies, but it often goes undetected. Research suggests that visits to the doctor may be good opportunities for screening for depression both during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.9,10
Hormonal changes increase during the transition between premenopause to menopause. While some women may transition into menopause without any problems with mood, others experience an increased risk for depression. This seems to occur even among women without a history of depression.11,12 However, depression becomes less common for women during the post-menopause period.13
Stressful life events such as trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship or any stressful situation-whether welcome or unwelcome-often occur before a depressive episode. Additional work and home responsibilities, caring for children and aging parents, abuse, and poverty also may trigger a depressive episode. Evidence suggests that women respond differently than men to these events, making them more prone to depression. In fact, research indicates that women respond in such a way that prolongs their feelings of stress more so than men, increasing the risk for depression.14 However, it is unclear why some women faced with enormous challenges develop depression, and some with similar challenges do not.loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger depression in some women.
Women with a family history of depression may be more likely to develop it than those whose families do not have the illness.