Depression and Women

Woman in Busy StreetMost women will have symptoms of depression at some point in their lives. Although depression affects people of all ages, educational backgrounds, and economic levels, nearly twice as many women suffer from this condition as men.

Depression most commonly starts between the ages of 15 and 45, although it can happen at any age. It can be triggered by a major loss or other life event, or come on slowly over time. It may be minor, with symptoms that go away by themselves, or more serious, lasting for months or even years.

It's common for women to assume they need to carry on — even though they may be suffering from extreme depression. Also, they may overlook the condition in their children or teens, thinking their kids are just being moody. And older women may wrongly assume that depression is a natural part of aging.

If you're experiencing symptoms of mild or moderate depression, try our self-care program or talk to your personal physician at Kaiser Permanente medical offices. For depression that lasts two weeks or more, or is severe enough to interfere with your daily life, talk to your doctor or a Behavioral Health Services specialist right away. Don't think that you can just snap out of depression. It can be a disabling illness — and it's not a sign of weakness to get help.

In addition to the other symptoms of depression, studies show that depression can increase your risk of stroke and heart attack. Our clinicians at Kaiser Permanente medical offices can help you follow a treatment plan that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, self-care techniques that are customized for you, and medication in some cases to manage your depression and lower your risk of other conditions.

Depression can be treated successfully, and we have many tools that can help you get better. The important thing is to see your doctor or one of our mental health specialists to identify your particular type of depression. Treatment varies depending on your symptoms and the severity of your depression.

Common Symptoms

Because depression is a condition that affects your body, mind, and spirit, symptoms can be both mental and physical. You may experience stomach trouble, headaches, or backaches. Other symptoms may include:

  • Feeling down, blue, hopeless, sad, or irritable.
  • Feeling emotionally numb, or like you're in a fog.
  • Finding no pleasure in activities you usually enjoy.
  • Feeling worthless ("I'm nothing but a failure") and having negative, hopeless thoughts ("I'll never feel better").
  • Having trouble concentrating.
  • Feeling tired or having no energy.
  • Experiencing changes in sleep patterns (waking in the night, sleeping more than usual, having trouble falling asleep).
  • Experiencing changes in eating habits or appetite.
  • Having more physical aches and pains.
  • Having trouble doing normal activities at work or at home.

If you're suffering from any of these symptoms, try our self-care remedies. If you're still having symptoms after two weeks, or you're finding it difficult to perform normal activities at work or home because of your symptoms, talk to your personal physician or a mental health expert at Kaiser Permanente's Behavioral Health Services. Our clinicians can help you determine what type of treatment would be most effective.

If you've experienced a major loss, remember that the symptoms of grief can be similar to depression. It's not unusual for grief to disrupt normal activities, but if it persists after several months, or if you're unsure whether to seek help, talk with your doctor or call Behavioral Health Services. Whether you need professional help depends on how long your symptoms last, and how severe they are.

If you have thoughts of death or suicide, call 911, your doctor, or Behavioral Health Services immediately.

Causes of Depression

It can be difficult to determine what causes depression, but some things that can increase the risk for depression include:

  • Stressful events, either now or in the past.
  • A family history of depression.
  • Use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Health problems — especially those that cause chronic pain or disability.
  • Having at least one episode of depression in the past.

Keep in mind that not all stressful events are sad. It's obvious that loss of a loved one, divorce, or being in debt is stressful. But joyful events — such as having a baby, getting married, or moving into a new house — can be stressful too. Change of any type, such as taking on a new role as caregiver for a spouse or elderly parent, can also take its toll.

Types of Depression

Symptoms of depression range from mild to severe, depending on how long they last, and how much they affect your daily activities. Depression disorders include seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which occurs during the same season each year — usually winter. Dysthymia is depression that may be relatively mild but lasts longer than two years.

Bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive disorder, is an illness that causes extreme mood changes — with periods of major depression alternating with periods of extremely elevated moods.

Anxiety symptoms or anxiety disorders often go hand in hand with depression. The same treatments that help depression can also help with anxiety problems.

When to Seek Treatment

Don't put off getting help if your depression lasts more than two weeks and your symptoms are interfering with your daily life. Good self-care, counseling from our mental health experts, and antidepressant medicines can greatly shorten the time it takes you to feel better.