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Types of depression that are unique to women
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types of depression that are unique to women

Depression and suicide rates have historically been higher for women, according to past research. Much of the reason why the pathologies behind these disorders are still not completely understood is due to the large number of exclusively female depressive disorders. In addition to the regular depressive disorders such as bipolar or major depressive disorder, women’s unique physiology, namely fluctuations in postpartum hormonal levels, puts them at risk of a host of depressive disorders that have yet to be diagnosed in men.

The female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are believed to be the main culprits; affecting more than 300 functions in the body such as heart and bone health, the hormones have also been linked to the brain’s reward system. For example, studies have found that decreases in estrogen lead to increases in the neurotransmitter dopamine and lower levels of serotonin, affecting mood and sleep patterns. The changes in estrogen and progesterone levels experienced during menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause have been shown to not only impact emotional states, but trigger depressive episodes as well.

Until the last century, the following disorders were considered to be symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Fortunately, these hormone-related depressive symptoms are now recognized as individual disorders, and include the following:

  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) – Characterized by severe depression symptoms, irritability and tension within five days before menstruation, PMDD affects about five percent of women in the country, according to some studies. Since the symptoms of PMDD are very easily confused with those of regular PMS, it can be very difficult to notice and seek help. More than half of women suffering from postpartum depression will experience it again with the birth of another child, making early treatment essential to preventing depressive symptoms from escalating. Mood and anxiety disorders are more common in women with PMDD, with unipolar depression accounting for the most common comorbid disorder. However, it can be difficult to differentiate PMDD from premenstrual exacerbation (PME) of existing anxiety or depressive disorders
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – Although not exclusive to women, SAD is more prevalent for females due most likely to seasonal changes in estrogen, serotonin, cortisol and melatonin. While many people experience a drop in mood during the winter months, people with SAD usually experience the typical signs of clinical depression (weight fluctuations, hopelessness, insomnia and low energy, loss of interest, etc.) for at least two years. People with SAD usually experience depressive symptoms during the late fall or early winter while feeling normal during the spring and summer; however, some people are reversed, experiencing symptoms in the spring or summer. SAD affects six percent of the population, ranging in severity from mild depressive symptoms to antisocial behavior and suicidal ideation
  • Postpartum Depression – Possessing the same criteria as clinical depression, postpartum depression is characterized by feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy as well as difficulty bonding with one’s child for at least two weeks after childbirth. Postpartum depressive cycles usually last from weeks to months; in extreme cases, the symptoms can be so debilitating that the mother withdraws herself and becomes emotionally detached from the child and husband altogether
  • Perimenopausal Depression – Meaning “around menopause,” perimenopausal depression is basically symptoms of unipolar depression that occur within three to five years prior to menopause. The most recently recognized condition on this list, the rates of suicide for women are the highest during perimenopause

The reason why women may be believed to be generally more susceptible to depression stems from the way they perceive stress, which in itself is shaped by environmental and biological factors. While women are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, men have been found to be more likely to suffer from aggression issues and substance abuse.

In addition to stress and brain chemistry, trauma is a common cause of depression in women. At Sovereign Health’s women’s Chandler, Ariz. center, we offer a host of brain wellness techniques to reduce anxiety and depression associated with withdrawal such as brain mapping, cognitive training and biofeedback. If you would like more information regarding our approach to depression treatment in women, feel free to read our reviews or contact us.

Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer

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