The American Institute of Stress says that “women have a stronger genetic predisposition for depression than men based on identical and fraternal twin studies, as well as documented and detailed family history records.” That’s actually one of the reasons listed as to why women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men. Of course, there are more reasons, including the well-known fact hat men in this country are not prone to visiting their doctor. And according to a review in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Pain, depression with physical pain is more common than women as well. Although, if men aren’t going to the doctor and women are more likely to explain their pain to their healthcare providers, that makes sense.
However, there’s another reason why more women than men are diagnosed with depression. There are actually types of depression that are unique to women. Let’s break them down in the order a woman might experience them according to the stages of her life.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
This disorder is actually less common and more severe than “PMS” or premenstrual syndrome. That National Institute of Mental Health explains that “PMDD is a serious condition with disabling symptoms such as irritability, anger, depressed mood, sadness, suicidal thoughts, appetite changes, bloating, breast tenderness, and joint or muscle pain.” Like PMS, PMDD usually begins about 10 days or so before your period starts. And while researchers are not clear on the cause, the Mayo Clinic adds that PMDD could be related to hormonal fluctuations that trigger or worsen symptoms of mood disorders.
They recommend antidepressants or birth control to alleviate the depression symptoms of PMDD. But if you prefer more natural means of managing this disorder, they also suggest supplements (calcium, vitamin B-6, and L-tryptophan), herbal remedies (chasteberry), as well as diet and lifestyle changes. However, all of these options should be discussed with your healthcare practitioner ahead of time.
This is a depression that can occur during and/or after pregnancy. I experienced this severely after the birth of my first child. But I had no idea until more than a year later when I heard a call for participation in a depression study on the radio. The announcer started listing all of these symptoms of depression and that was the first time I realized I may have an actual condition of sorts. But what’s wrong with this picture? I’ve commented before that we are not a tribal or collectivist society. Meaning, we do not work together to help each other. This is especially horrible for mothers who find themselves isolated and without direction from friends and family to step in for consistent help. It’s your tribe of women who can quickly identify that a mother is suffering from perinatal depression. We sometimes refer to this as postpartum depression.
This is a serious condition. Although it is an extreme case, recall the story of Andrea Yates who drowned her children in their bathtub. She had been diagnosed with both postpartum depression and psychosis. I have spoken to many women in my life who have also experienced this kind of depression. All of them understand what could have led to Yates’ actions because they lived through this severe condition too. If you are experiencing signs of depression while you are pregnant or after you’ve given birth, you should talk to your physician or a mental healthcare provider. They are used to treating this condition so don’t worry about any stigma you may have personally attached to depression. And if you see any signs of depression in a loved one during or after pregnancy, you should strongly encourage her to visit a clinic or her doctor quickly.
While transitioning into menopause can certainly be a challenge, perimenopausal depression is not par for the course. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health adds, “it is a myth that it is “normal” to feel depressed. If you are struggling with irritability, anxiety, sadness, or loss of enjoyment at the time of the menopause transition, you may be experiencing perimenopausal depression.”
The International Journal of Women’s Health explains that this is due to hormonal fluctuations. No surprise there, right? But they add that “women with previous histories of PMS or postpartum depression are at increased risk… Untreated depression may exacerbate heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, as well as contributing to an increased risk for suicide and to a more debilitating course of the depression that is more refractory to intervention.”
If you or a loved one are dealing with any of these types of depression, hopefully you can now begin to understand the magnitude of what is happening. Have you experienced any of these types? How did you recover from it or what are you doing to mitigate your symptoms? Have you dealt with any of these on top of your fibromyalgia or other chronic pain conditions?