Women and Depression
As anyone who has experienced it knows, depression is far more than simply feeling sad. It is more like an overwhelming feeling of despair and unworthiness that essentially takes over your body, mind, and spirit. More than 17 million Americans experience some type of depression each year. Women are disproportionately affected, suffering from depression at roughly twice the rate of men.
A diagnosis of major depression is made when you have experienced at least five of the following symptoms daily for 2 weeks:
- Feeling of sadness or periods of crying
- Feelings of guilt, self-blame, or worthlessness
- Changes in sleep patterns (usually, waking up earlier than intended, still tired)
- Changes in appetite and weight (usually weight loss)
- Decreased interest in sex
- Decreased ability to enjoy things you once enjoyed
- Decreased ability to concentrate
- Decreased energy
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Thoughts of death and even suicide
People with major depression are usually not able to function normally at work, at home, or in personal relationships. But not all depression is this severe. Some people suffer from a milder, and more chronic form of depression called dysthmia, which causes these same signs and symptoms, but fewer of them. People with mild depression may appear to function normally, but actually are struggling more than usual to maintain the status quo.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, 80 to 90 percent of all cases of depression can be treated effectively. Since depression is caused by a change in brain chemistry, modern treatment makes use of specific medications that help return this chemistry to normal. It sometimes takes several months to find the right medication and dosage for you, but doctors today have an ever-increasing assortment of drugs that can maximize benefits and minimize side effects. Treatment also involves counseling, or psychotherapy, which helps you overcome the negative patterns that have intruded on your normal moods, thoughts, and behaviors. Unfortunately, it is estimated that only 3 in 10 depressed people get any form of treatment. Without treatment, the frequency and severity of symptoms tend to increase over the years.
Take a depression screening to see how you fare. If you are feeling a little down – but don’t meet the criteria for major depression – there are lots of things to help lift your spirits. Contact with supportive friends and family can be reassuring, especially if some of your sadness comes from isolation. Regular exercise is a proven mental booster. And involvement in a church or synagogue often helps to fill spiritual needs and conquer emptiness. Even getting a lovable pet can help chase the blues away. If your depression persists in spite of your attempts to conquer it, it’s time to see a doctor.
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