Friday, November 27, 2009

Women and depression:

Over the recent times a lot has been happening to boost the status of women in the society. Women now shoulder greater responsibilities and are capable of doing almost anything that men can do. In spite of these social advancements women still remain vulnerable to number of mental illnesses and depression is the most common one. Women mostly present with unexplained physical symptoms, such as tiredness, aches and pains, dizziness, palpitations and sleep problems.

The common symptoms of depression are Persistent sad or low mood, Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, including sex, Restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying, Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism, Sleeping too much or too little, early morning awakening, Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain, Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down", Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts, Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions, However, not everyone with depression experiences all of these symptoms, and the severity of the symptoms may vary from person to person. In order to consider depression as a disorder, the symptoms must persist for more than two weeks and should interfere with one’s work or family life.

Major depression and dysthymia (chronic depressed mood) affect twice as many women as men. This two-to-one ratio exists regardless of racial and ethnic background or economic status. Many factors unique to women are suspected to play a role in developing depression. These can be reproductive, hormonal, genetic or other biological factors. Abuse and oppression due to gender biases and certain psychological and personality characteristics are also some other factors. However, it has not been possible to pinpoint any the specific cause for depression as many women exposed to these stress factors do not develop depression.

Scientific studies done in many other countries show that higher incidence of depression in females begins in adolescence. This is due to the fact that roles and expectations change dramatically during adolescence. Other stresses of adolescence include forming an identity, confronting sexuality, separating from parents, and making decisions for the first time, along with other physical, intellectual, and hormonal changes. These stresses are generally different for boys and girls, and may be associated more often with depression in females. It is also suggested that men and women differ in their expression of emotional problems. While men choose to self medicate by taking alcohol or drugs, women tend to express these through emotion, thus becoming depressed.

Adulthood has its own share of stresses for women. These are major responsibilities at home and work, single parenthood, and caring for children and aging parents. Even in a married relationship women carry a greater share of child care and household responsibilities. Role conflict sometimes becomes an issue too. Women at times need to choose between family and work responsibilities, often having difficulty in deciding about which choice is the "proper" one!

Unlike men, women go through many reproductive events. Menstrual cycle, pregnancy, the post pregnancy period, infertility, menopause, and sometimes, the decision not to have children are various reproductive events they go through. All of these events can bring fluctuations in mood which can include depression in some women. Although the specific biological mechanism explaining hormonal involvement in depression is not known many researchers have confirmed that hormones have as effect on the brain chemistry leading to changes in emotions and mood. Because of this many women experience certain behavioral and physical changes associated with phases of their menstrual cycles. In some women, these changes are severe, occur regularly, and include depressed feelings, irritability, and other emotional and physical changes called premenstrual syndrome. During the post delivery period women are more likely to suffer from depression. Postpartum depressions can range from transient "blues" following childbirth to severe, incapacitating, psychotic depressions.

Pregnancy, if desired, does not lead to depression and having an abortion does not appear to lead to a higher incidence of depression either. However, women with infertility problems may be subject to extreme anxiety or sadness, most of the time aggravated by cultural beliefs where infertility is considered ominous. Teenage pregnancy or young motherhood is also a risk for depression due to the increased stress. Housewives who depend on their husbands for financial needs can become uncertain especially when they have abusive husbands. Frequent domestic violence and apathetic attitude of parents and siblings towards married daughters or siblings can lead to helplessness and hopelessness.

Untreated depression can lead to suicide but even severe depression can be highly responsive to treatment. Of course, believing one's condition as "incurable" is often part of the hopelessness that accompanies serious depression. Indeed, treatment is not to eliminate life’s inevitable stresses and ups and downs but to enhance the ability to manage such challenges and lead to greater enjoyment in life.

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