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Depressed Women Shouldn't Feel Guilty! A Biopsychosocial Explanation for Depression

Updated on April 7, 2013

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website, women are 70% more likely to develop a depressive disorder at some time in their lives. In adolescent girls, they are twice as likely to experience depression by the time they are 15. This is generally due to hormonal, biologic, and psychosocial reasons. It's difficult to pinpoint one exact factor, all of the factors seem to combine to cause depression in women.

Television commercials for antidepressants and add on therapies recognize the major audience is women. They portray women laying around and unable to participate in caring for their families.This adds to a woman's guilt and can make the depression even harder to treat.

What are Common Symptoms?

The symptoms can vary depending on the degree of depression. The most common indicators according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fourth edition (DSM IV TR) are:

Depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities for at least 2 weeks and at least five of the following symptoms that cause clinically significant impairment in social, work, or other important areas of functioning almost every day

Depressed mood most of the day.

Diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities.

Significant unintentional weight loss or gain.

Insomnia or sleeping too much.

Agitation or psychomotor retardation noticed by others.

Fatigue or loss of energy.

Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.

Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.

Recurrent thoughts of death

The actual degree of impairment can vary depending on the individual's circumstances. A person who has good coping skills and a supportive family, may not experience the depressive symptoms as much as a person with a lot of stressors such as, unemployment, homelessness, ailing family members and a lack of support.

How Did I get Depressed?

There is a lot of support that a combination of stressors build up to cause a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance becomes worse until the person experiences depression. This means a person who works too many hours, has to care for her family, has little or no personal time to care for herself is already "burning the candle at both ends."Add to this perimenopause, physical illness or death in the family and the response is greater. These factors build up in the body over time causing a stress response. This stress response releases chemicals in the body that further wear out the chemicals in the brain. The chemicals most attributed to depression are a lack of serotonin and norepinephrin. These chemicals are responsible for creating a pleasurable response in the brain. Over time, the chemicals deplete and the person's ability to feel pleasurable feelings diminishes. Sometimes, the outward stressors ease and the person is able to heal naturally. Other times, the person will need medical treatment to correct the depression.

How Can I Get Better?

First things first, if you are having thoughts about death or self harm, tell your physician immediately. You will need to be kept safe and given treatment right away. Having depression doesn't mean you are "crazy." It means you have been pushed too far and your body has run out of options for compensating for the stress. Your physician may suggest you take antidepressant medications. If you are having difficulty functioning and have lost pleasure in activities you previously found pleasurable, you should seriously consider taking them. There are several different types of medications with less severe side effects than in the past. If you don't like one medication you can try another.

Begin taking care of yourself. Obviously, if you are reading this blog you already know you need to do something. A lot of women will say "I don't have time." You better find some time before it gets worse. I like the old saying " If mama ain't happy, nobody's happy." If you need to see a therapist there is no shame in that. Too much misunderstanding and stigma is out there. If more people saw therapists the world just might be a better place!

Learn new ways to think and respond. So many times we tell ourselves negative things like, "I'm stupid", "I can't do it" and "People won't listen to me." When was the last time you told yourself what a great job you are doing? Every time you catch yourself saying something negative to yourself or your family stop and ask, "where did that come from?" We can get locked into our negative thoughts and it becomes tough to get out until we begin to see. Once you catch yourself saying that negative thought, identify what feelings you felt just before. Were you frightened, anxious, angry? Replace that thought with a better one. Say, "I was feeling angry, but I can do this."

Things don't change over night. The chemical depletion took a while to happen, so be gentle with yourself and give it some time. Follow the directions your doctor gives you and report any new problems. If you feel bad about taking antidepressants, don't. If you had diabetes you would take insulin and nobody would think twice about it. Depression causes a biochemical change that sometimes needs to be corrected with medications. Depression isn't a life long condition and medications can be stopped eventually under the guidance of your physician. Be well!


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