What is depression?

Depression is a medical condition that affects 19 million Americans each year. Of those affected by depression, experts estimate that women experience depression twice as often as men. In fact, over the course of a lifetime, nearly one in four women will experience a major depressive mood. And yet, only one in five women suffering from depression will get the medical treatment they need. It appears that the chances of a woman becoming depressed may be greatest during peak childbearing years, roughly ages 25 to 44, but depression can strike a woman at any age. Remember, if you are a woman with depression, you are not alone. Help is available.

More than just occasional sadness.
Everyone gets sad sometimes – a brief blue mood, disappointments, a grief after losing a loved one. Depression, though, is different. Depression is not just a case of the blues; it is a serious medical illness often caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Much like diabetes, asthma or heart disease, depression is a disease that requires medical treatment. Otherwise, if left untreated, depression can last months, or, in some cases, years.

Compared with depressed men, depressed women are more likely to experience:

  • Guilt
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased sleep

Some signs and symptoms of depression:
There are several signs and symptoms that can help a healthcare provider determine if a woman has depression. If you (or a woman you know) have had at least five of the following symptoms for most of the day, nearly every day for more than two weeks, professional help should be sought:

  • Feelings of sadness, depressed mood and/or irritability
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, such as hobbies or spending time with family/friends
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Changes in sleeping patterns – sleeping too much or not being able to sleep at all
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions
  • Constant fatigue or loss of energy
  • Restlessness or decreased activity
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death

Important note: if you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, seek professional help immediately through your healthcare provider, or call 411 to get the phone number for the nearest local suicide hotline.

What depression is not:
Depression is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it a sign of a weak personality. People with depression cannot “just snap out of it” – no more than it would be possible for a person with diabetes or some other medical illness to “just snap out of it.”

Some risk factors for depression in women

  • Family history of mood disorders
  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Personal past history of mood disorders in early reproductive years
  • Reproductive issues; for example, infertility, miscarriages, menopause, postpartum depression
  • Loss of social support system (such as family, friends or assisted-living services) or threat of such a loss

There’s good news: with proper treatment, more than 80% of people with depression can improve
There are two main treatments for depression – counseling, also called psychotherapy – and medication. For some women, either treatment may be sufficient. For others, the most effective therapy is a combination of the two treatments.

Counseling, or psychotherapy, is often called “talk” therapy, and it comes in many forms. Basically, psychotherapy is aimed at helping a person develop new ways to cope with problems and to identify and understand more about depression and how to avoid it in the future. Psychotherapy may take place in individual, group or family sessions, and the therapy session may take some time before a person notices an improvement.

Antidepressant medication works by helping to correct the imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. These medications may take several weeks to be effective, but they work well and are generally safe. There are three main groups of antidepressants: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). SSRIs are the newest class of antidepressants. They help to relieve the symptoms of depression by increasing the available supply of serotonin, a substance in the brain believed to influence mood.

Fortunately, the side effects from any antidepressant medications are generally mild and often go away over time. For more information about side effects, talk with your healthcare provider.

In addition to therapy and medication, there are other things you can do that may help you start feeling better, including: exercising, improving your diet, establishing a normal full-night sleeping schedule, and reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol. For additional suggestions about what you can do, talk to your healthcare provider.

Information about Antidepressants
Be sure to tell your physician if you are taking any other medications, including those obtained over the counter. Follow all of your healthcare provider’s instructions about how and when you should take your antidepressant medication. If you experience side effects at any point while you are taking a medication prescribed by your healthcare provider, contact him or her as soon as possible to share this information. It is important to take your medication as long as your healthcare provider instructs, even if you start to feel better, because otherwise your depression could return or worsen. And remember, studies show most antidepressants are not addictive, particularly the newer classes of antidepressants such as SSRIs.


Mission Health Care Network | 2525 de Sales Avenue | Chattanooga, TN 37404 | MissionHealth@memorial.org
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