Depression in Women: Signs, Causes, & Treatment

Published on: 19 Nov 2021
Clinically Reviewed by Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
woman sitting by window

Depression in women is common. It’s more than “just being sad” or “feeling down.” Depression is a mood disorder that can be difficult to navigate on your own. Untreated depression can have very severe symptoms and negatively affect just about everything in your life — from how you feel to the way you think and act. Depression is more common in women than it is in men. Researchers attribute this to potentially being a result of hormonal, biological, and social factors that are specific to women.

“Depression is a very common mood disorder and many people will experience it at some point in their lives. The causes of depression are complex — inspirational quotes and positive thinking are not a cure. It is not your fault if you are struggling to feel better!”

Talkspace therapist Liz Kelly, LICSW

Read on to learn more about the signs, symptoms, and causes of depression in women.

Signs & Symptoms of Depression in Women

Signs of depression in women can vary from men. Women are more than twice as likely to have clinical depression, which is also known as major depressive disorder (MDD). An estimated one out of every four women will have a major depressive episode during their lifetime.

“Depression doesn’t always look like what we imagine it to be — it’s not always overwhelming sadness and tears. Depression can also look like feeling irritable, numb, or exhausted. Activities that used to be fun just don’t bring joy anymore. Or everything just feels way harder than it should be. If that sounds like you, don’t hesitate to get screened by a mental health professional.”

Talkspace therapist Liz Kelly, LICSW

Depression can cause feelings of hopelessness and sadness. It can make women feel worthless and helpless. Depression symptoms can be mild, or moderate to severe, and they can vary in severity from episode to episode.

Some of the major depression symptoms in women can include:

  • Loss of interest in activities that once were pleasurable
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Feeling sad or empty
  • Struggling with anxiety
  • Being restless or cranky
  • Excessively crying
  • Having feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or generally pessimistic
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling fatigued, having less energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Physical symptoms that include headache, chronic pain, and digestive issues — these physical symptoms typically do not respond to treatment
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide attempts

How Depression Differs in Women

Depressive symptoms in women are one of the things that can differ from men. There are multiple ways that depression affects women differently, including:

  • Women more often have feelings of guilt
  • They’re more prone to attempt suicide (however they actually take their life less often than men do)
  • Depression can happen earlier in life for women than men
  • A depressive episode can last longer and be more likely to reoccur
  • It’s more commonly tied to life events that are stressful
  • It’s more likely to be associated with an anxiety disorder — phobic disorder, eating disorder, or panic disorder

“Women are more likely than men to develop clinical depression. Things like pregnancy and changes in hormone levels throughout a woman’s life can impact her susceptibility to depression. Environmental factors, like balancing work with raising children alone and cultural expectations for women play a role as well.”

Talkspace therapist Liz Kelly, LICSW

Causes of Depression in Women 

The causes of depression in women can be due to several things. As girls begin experiencing puberty, their risk of developing depression increases to twice what boys’ risks are at the same age. Some researchers attribute this to changes in hormone levels that naturally occur around puberty in a young woman’s life. 

Women can also have an increased risk of developing depression due to genetic, reproductive, and biological factors. Interpersonal relationships, personality traits, and psychological characteristics may also come into play.

Women might have an increased risk of depression due to the following:

  • A family history of depression or other mood disorders
  • Loss of a parent in the formative years (before age 10)
  • History of other mood disorders in earlier reproductive years
  • Ongoing social or psychological stress — relationship stress, divorce or separation, loss of a job, or other loss or trauma
  • Lacking or loss of a social support system, or fear of that loss
  • Use of some medications
  • Physical abuse as a child
  • Sexual abuse as a child

Additionally, women might experience a specific type of depression after giving birth known as postpartum depression.

How to Treat Depression in Women

Several forms of treatment have been found effective in treating depression in women. Therapy, medication, and self-help techniques are all potential ways to treat it. It’s important to note that the same treatment often won’t work in the same way for every woman. Working with a therapist or doctor to figure out the best methods is essential. 

The relationship between depression and menstruation, perinatal periods, pregnancy, or perimenopausal periods should be closely examined. Any links between a depressed mood and hormone replacement therapy and birth control should be explored, too. 

  • Medication: Antidepressant medication is often very effective in treating symptoms of depression in women in combination with therapy. They work by controlling stress and emotion hormones. There are also other medications for depression that you can talk about with a doctor. Antidepressant medications aren’t a “cure” for depression but they can significantly help relieve symptoms. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown in some cases to work more effectively than antidepressant medication. For women who have mild depression or moderate depression, CBT can be very effective. However, in more severe depression cases, a combination of CBT and medication may be most effective.
  • Talk therapy: Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, allows women to figure out how to process their emotions. They can learn to alter their thought patterns, which can reduce some depressive symptoms.
  • Self-help techniques: In addition to therapy and/or medication, self-help techniques can be helpful for dealing with depression. Things like meditation, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, doing yoga, establishing a healthy sleep habit, journaling, and other therapeutic self-help tactics might be good options for women who are looking for help relieving some depression symptoms. 

By educating yourself on depression, you can gain a better understanding about how to effectively treat it. Try not to get discouraged or give up if you don’t find the right treatment the first time. It might take some trial and error before you find that treatment or combination of treatments that’s most effective for your mental health. 

If you, or someone you know, think you might have depression, start with our depression test to learn more. After you take the test, you can connect with a licensed therapist at Talkspace to get diagnosis and treatment.

Sources:

1. NIMH » Depression in Women: 5 Things You Should Know. Nimh.nih.gov. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-in-women.  Published 2021. Accessed November 8, 2021.

2. Fulghum Bruce, PhD D. Depression Effects on Women: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-women. Published 2021. Accessed November 8, 2021.

3. BHATIA, M.D. S, BHATIA, M.D. S. Depression in Women: Diagnostic and Treatment Considerations. Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(1):225-234. https://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0701/p225.html. Accessed November 8, 2021

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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