Depression in Special Circumstances: Women & Mood Disorders

For reasons still not certain, women are twice as likely as men to experience major depression during their lifetime, especially during their reproductive years. Anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks and agoraphobia, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder, are also far more common in women than in men. In part, the increased female susceptibility to mood disorders may be explained by the effect female hormones can have on brain chemistry. Women appear to be at higher risk to develop depressive symptoms when hormones are in a state of flux and when they are low. The period leading up to (perimenopause) the cessation of a woman’s reproductive cycle, when hormone levels fluctuate prior to when they cease to be produced, for example, is associated with an increased incidence of depression.

Many women experience negative changes in mood premenstrually when hormone levels are similarly low. Following the birth of a child, hormone levels also dip precipitously and it is believed that postpartum depression may be linked to rapidly shifting hormones. Women who are prone to depression are more likely to experience premenstrual symptoms as well. It is that that simple though and many psychological and social factors appear to be important. Women more often become depressed after stressful life events, describe role overload (i.e., work outside the home and carry most of the household and child responsibilities), and are financially disadvantaged – all factors implicated in depression.