Depression affects both men and women, but more women than men are likely to be diagnosed with depression in any given year. That being said, depression is not a "normal part of being a woman" nor is it a "female weakness." Many women with depression never seek treatment. But most women, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment.
Life is full of ups and downs. But when the down times last for weeks or months at a time or keep you from your regular activities, you may be suffering from depression. Depression is a medical illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things.
It is different from feeling "blue" or down for a few hours or a couple of days. It is not a condition that can be willed or wished away.
Different kinds of depression include:
Some kinds of depression show slightly different symptoms than those described above. Some may start after a particular event. However, not all scientists agree on how to label and define these forms of depression. They include:
There is no single cause of depression. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for depression for everyone, regardless of their risk factors. But certain things can raise a woman's risk for depression:
Not all people with depression have the same symptoms. Some people might only have a few, and others a lot. How often symptoms occur, and how long they last, is different for each person. Symptoms of depression include:
Below are some people and places that can help you get treatment.
If you are unsure where to go for help, check the Yellow Pages under mental health, health, social services, suicide prevention, crisis intervention services, hotlines, hospitals, or physicians for phone numbers and addresses.
Depression can make you think about hurting yourself or suicide. You may hurt yourself to:
Yet, hurting yourself does just that — it hurts you. If you are thinking about hurting or even killing yourself, please ask for help! Call 911, 800-273-TALK (8255) or 800-SUICIDE, or check in your phone book for the number of a suicide crisis center. The centers offer experts who can help callers talk through their problems and develop a plan of action. These hotlines can also tell you where to go for more help in person. You also can talk with a family member you trust, a clergy person, or a doctor. There is nothing wrong with asking for help — everyone needs help sometimes.
You might feel like your pain is too overwhelming to cope with, but those times don't last forever. People do make it through suicidal thoughts. If you can't find someone to talk with, write down your thoughts. Try to remember and write down the things you are grateful for. List the people who are your friends and family, and care for you. Write about your hopes for the future. Read what you have written when you need to remind yourself that your life is IMPORTANT!
Most people with depression get better when they get treatment.
The first step to getting the right treatment is to see a doctor. Certain medicines, and some medical conditions (such as viruses or a thyroid disorder), can cause the same symptoms as depression. Also, it is important to rule out depression that is associated with another mental illness called bipolar disorder. A doctor can rule out these possibilities with a physical exam, asking questions, and/or lab tests, depending on the medical condition. If a medical condition and bipolar disorder can be ruled out, the doctor should conduct a psychological exam or send the person to a mental health professional.
Once identified, depression almost always can be treated with:
Some people with milder forms of depression do well with therapy alone. Others with moderate to severe depression might benefit from antidepressants. It may take a few weeks or months before you begin to feel a change in your mood. Some people do best with both treatments — therapy and antidepressants.
The decision whether or not to stay on medications is a hard one. You should talk with your doctor. Medication taken during pregnancy does reach the fetus. In rare cases, some antidepressants have been associated with breathing and heart problems in newborns, as well as jitteriness, difficulty feeding, and low blood sugar after delivery. However, moms who stop medications can be at high risk of their depression coming back. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking antidepressants during pregnancy. Your doctor can help you decide what is best for you and your baby.
In some cases, a woman and her doctor may decide to slowly lower her antidepressant dose during the last month of pregnancy. Doing so can help the newborn suffer from fewer withdrawal symptoms. After delivery, a woman can return to a full dose. This can help her feel better during the postpartum period, when risk of depression can be greater.
If you stopped taking your medication during pregnancy, you may need to begin taking it again after the baby is born. Be aware that because your medication can be passed into your breast milk, breastfeeding may pose some risk for a nursing infant.
However, a number of research studies show that certain antidepressants, such as some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been used relatively safely during breastfeeding. (SSRIs are a kind of antidepressant for treating depression and anxiety disorders.) You should discuss with your doctor whether breastfeeding is an option or whether you should plan to feed your baby formula. Although breastfeeding has some advantages for your baby, most importantly, as a mother, you need to stay healthy so you can take care of your baby.
Before taking medication for an anxiety disorder:
It may be safe for young people to be treated with antidepressants. However, drug companies who make antidepressants are required to post a "black box" warning label on the medication. A "black box" warning is the most serious type of warning on prescription drugs.
It may be possible that antidepressants make children, adolescents, and young adults more likely to think about suicide or commit suicide. In 2007, the FDA said that makers of all antidepressant medications should extend the warning to include young adults up through age 24.
The warning says that patients of all ages taking antidepressants should be watched closely, especially during the first weeks of treatment. Possible side effects to look for are worsening depression, suicidal thinking or behavior, or any unusual changes in behavior such as sleeplessness, agitation, or withdrawal from normal social situations. Families and caregivers should pay close attention to the patient, and report any changes in behavior to the patient's doctor. The latest information from the FDA on antidepressants can be found on their website.
St. John's wort is a plant with yellow flowers that has been used for centuries for health purposes, including depression and anxiety. However, research studies from the National Institutes of Health found that St. John's wort was not effective in treating major depression.
Other research shows that St. John's wort can make some medicines not work or that it can cause dangerous side effects. The herb appears to interfere with certain drugs used to treat heart disease, HIV, depression, seizures, certain cancers, and organ transplant rejection. The herb may also make birth control pills not work as well. Because of this, people should always consult their doctors before taking any herbal supplement.
St. John's wort is not a proven therapy for depression. If depression is not treated the right way, it can become severe and, in some cases, may be linked with suicide.
You may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless. It may be very hard to do anything to help yourself. But it is important to realize that these feelings are part of the depression and do not reflect real life. As you understand your depression and begin treatment, negative thinking will fade. In the meantime:
For more information about depression, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 (TDD: 888-220-5446) or contact the following organizations:
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the additional reviews by:
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Page last updated: June 12, 2017.
Content last reviewed: February 12, 2016.