Causes of Depression in Women

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Are the causes of depression in women unique? Yes!

Depression is not caused by one thing but the interaction of many. 

The causes of depression in women differ from the causes in men in several ways. 

Poverty

Women experience income inequality  and there is a link between poverty and depression.

Victimization

Women experience higher rates of victimization in society, and there is a link between victimization and depression.

Discrimination

Gender inequality is also linked to higher rates of depression. This impacts us in all areas of life, from the home to the workplace.

Hormones

Women experience more episodes of depression during almost all of the phases of life where hormones are fluctuating, puberty, childbirth, and menopause. 


Causes of Depression in Women: Genetics

Studies of identical twins raised apart have found that if one twin has depression, 67 percent of the time, so does the other.

Adoption studies show that children of depressed parents are more likely to be depressed. If a parent or grandparent has depression, you are twice as likely to have it. 

This is true for both men and women.

Causes of Depression in Women: Biology

We know that in women  who are depressed have reduced levels of certain neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain that affect our moods.

The major neurotransmitters are serotonin, nor epinephrine, and dopamine. Each neurotransmitter has specific regulatory functions in the brain.

Some of the functions include: sleep, memory, alertness, energy, emotions, and movement (all of which are effected to some degree in depression).

Causes of Depression in Women: Hormones

Changes in hormone levels explain the surge in depression levels that happens for girls once they hit puberty, postpartum, during pregnancy and peri menopausally.

Many women see their depression lift after menopause.

There is no question that hormone levels influence the both depression and anxiety in women. 

Learn more about the role of hormones, depression and how it is treated in these links below. 


Causes of Depression in Women.  The Influence of  Medical Conditions /Medications

Medical conditions that may trigger depression include: hypoglycemia, thyroid problems, anemia, diabetes, mono, hepatitis, and the flu.

Medications such as steroids, seizure medications and medications for asthma can also bring on/ and or mimic depressive symptoms.

Chronic pain and stressful medical illnesses can cause depression as well. Women are often treated insensitively when illnesses involving chronic pain is involved. Sexism is rampant.  Women often  told that they are in need of counseling for anxiety, that their illnesses are psychosomatic, or to have their symptoms dismissed.

This, of course,  is likely to increase any symptoms of depression and anxiety they already have from feeling pain and being ill. 

Inflammation

Inflammatory disorders also seem to have a role in depression and there is currently research being accumulated that suggests medications that treat inflammation can be helpful in treating depression! This is an exciting new area of research. 

Causes of Depression in Women.  Family and Environment

Family or origin is very often a cause of depression. Any history of neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse is a risk factor for depression. Childhood trauma is significantly linked to later depression. 

75.6% of the chronically depressed patients reported clinically significant histories of childhood trauma. 37% of the chronically depressed patients reported multiple childhood traumatization. Experiences of multiple trauma also led to significantly more severe depressive symptoms (Negele et al 2015).

The building blocks for how you feel about yourself are initially laid in your family.

Of course, as you get older you learn more about who you are from the world and your experiences in it. Many people who have "dysfunctional "families grow to be successful and happy.

However, if you are treated badly and harmed as a child you often do not view yourself as important or valuable, and it certainly complicates your ability to view the world as a happy and friendly place.

Family issues don’t just include abuse and neglect. Conflict in a person’s family, role stress, communication problems, and other family issues can be a contributing cause of depression.

Causes of Depression in Women: Role Stress

 Many women I see in therapy for depression seems to have role stress as a contributing cause of depression. When women enter new roles or have multiple roles this can cause internal and external conflict that can be a cause of depression. Often I see this in clients who are new moms. They may have left their career and single or pre-baby friends and are trying to figure out who they now are. Also, this is common in women who are college students or just entering the workforce after college. They may struggle with deciding whether they want to work and have a career, be a mom, or be both. “The empty nest syndrome” is another example of how changes or stress from roles can be one of the causes of clinical depression.

While juggling multiple roles we are often doing the majority if no all of the housework and more than our fair share of emotional labor. 

Emotional labor is energy we use to constantly make other people comfortable, address other people's needs and wants, and live up to societies expectations for us. It is exhausting, and drains us. It  contributes in to both anxiety and depression in women. Learn more about it here. 

Causes of Depression in Women:  LOSS

 Losing a major relationship with someone you care for or love or your support system can be a contributing cause of depression. This does not have to be through death, it can be through divorce, a move, or a falling out. Very often children and adults who come to me with depression have a history of a significant loss: a grandparent, a miscarriage, a friend, spouse, or parent, or sibling.

Causes of Depression in Women: Body Shame

Women report attempting suicide approximately twice as often as men

Women learn early that their value is determined by their appearance. We are praised when we are thin and attractive and are taught through the messages in the media that being beautiful and thin is how we are valued. Early on we internalize that this is where an how we get our sense of worth. Somewhere around the age of 12 -14 the rates of depression in girls double. They stay this way until after menopause. Now some of this is explained by hormones, although we don't fully understand this, but much of it seems to be explained by internalizing our objectification. We associate our worth with beauty, and the standards of beauty are unachievable for most. When we don't achieve those standards, we feel shame and eventually depression. 

 Thought Patterns and Stress. 

Traditional male centered theories of the cause of depression discuss stress.

Job stress, financial stress, social stress, or physical illness,can all be triggers.  Depression can result when we lack the coping skills to handle overwhelming events. This happens very often with children who experience a significant loss or trauma.

One of symptoms commonly observed in people who have depression are negative thought patterns. Depressed people often have a negative view of themselves, the world, and the future. People who are depressed may evaluate everything according to a negative schema. They view a positive or an innocuous event as negative or harmful. Their perceptions are distorted. Sometimes this is a personality trait in a women who is depressed, other times it is a trait that develops with the depression. A normally happy and optimistic person can become depressed and begin to view the world and themselves negatively.

But the stressors women experience can be unique, and can influence their outlook and sense of things being " negative"

  • Women earn less than men
  • Are more likely to be denied mortgages and to be overcharged for them
  • Are particularly vulnerable to predatory lending
  •  At Least 81 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime.
  • Women Earn About 20 Percent Less Than Men on Average (and It’s Not Getting Any Better)
  • Exposure to violence makes a woman three to four times more likely to be affected by depression.
  •  One-Fourth of Women Experience Sexual Harassment in the Workplace 
  • 75 Percent of Harassment Victims Experience Retaliation After Reporting Sexual Harassment at Work

Causes of Depression in Women: External Locus of Control

Essentially this refers to feeling that you have no control over your destiny. Instead of attributing success to your actions, you attribute it to events which have acted upon you. These leads to a sense of powerlessness which is a contributing cause of depression. Women who  don’t have an internal locus of control wake up every day and feel no control over life. They feel unable to set goals and achieve them and are at the mercy of fate. Women with this trait when faced with a crisis, a loss, or a major stress,  often do not have the skills to recover and cope. You can see how things such as a learning disability or a lack of social skills can lead to a perceived lack of control, or negative belief about yourself. This is why these things are considered risk factors in developing depression.


However, for women, we can have less of a sense of internal control, because we may have had other experiences that led to less agency. We may have been taught we were less important, less smart or less valuable and had experiences that validate that. 

Therapy for women who have depression must take these issues into account. 


 Citations for why do people get depression

Negele, A., Kaufhold, J., Kallenbach, L., & Leuzinger-Bohleber, M. (2015). Childhood Trauma and Its Relation to Chronic Depression in Adulthood. Depression research and treatment, 2015, 650804. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/650804

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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.