One of the most common health issues in the United States, depression is a mood disorder that can seriously affect how you feel, think and handle daily living skills and activities, including sleeping, socializing, working and eating.
Unlike the blues and feelings of sadness we all occasionally experience after situational or external events, depression may be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 17.3% of adult Americans suffer depression each year.
“More women are diagnosed with depression than men,” says Mignon Kennedy, a social worker at SouthernCare Hospice in Valparaiso, noting that women are about twice as likely to develop depression. NIMH research also indicated adolescent girls were more likely than boys to suffer a major depressive episode — 20% to 6.8%.
The higher incidence of depression in women may stem from the fact that they tend to be more willing to talk about their problems than men.
But genetics, biological, environmental and/or psychological factors also come into play, says Zathoe Sexton, interim director and board president of Gabriel’s Horn, a short-term shelter in Portage for homeless women and children. “Factors such as pregnancy, postpartum depression and menopause all reflect hormonal changes at different stages in women's lives.”
According to WebMD, the hormone fluctuations women experience during each month's menstrual cycle probably contribute to premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD. The latter is a severe condition with symptoms including depression, anxiety and mood swings that occur the week before menstruation.
“Common symptoms of depression for women are loss of interest, fatigue, change in appetite, sleep disturbances, and apathy," Sexton says. “Any of these symptoms would be reason to seek help.”
Age may also be a factor. Depression is more common in older adults, and women live longer than men. From psychological and sociological perspectives, women tend to think about and try to resolve relationship issues more than men, who are more likely to react in other maladaptive ways such as anger.
“It is not easy to just snap out of it,” says Sexton, noting that often the cause of depression needs to be treated by a doctor, counselor, or psychiatrist.
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Treatments include therapy, medication and healthy lifestyles changes.
According to Kennedy, there’s a correlation between exercise and a reduction in depression.
“Exercise increases endorphins in your brain and lowers the cortisol (stress hormone) in your body,” says Jennifer Jimenez, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago. “Setting out to do something that is a challenge, like signing up for a 5K or completing a yoga class, gives you a goal to focus on and something to work toward. If you complete it, then you have a sense of satisfaction and completion. Exercise promotes an increase in energy and motivation, and better sleep, which all help keep our thoughts on the positive side rather than the negative side.”
Promoting other beneficial choices may include changing your social milieu. Negativity begets negativity.
“You are likely attracted to groups of people who are like-minded,” Jimenez says. “If you are wanting to change your outlook on life, see things differently, then you need to seek out people or settings that promote these changes. It's hard to be negative and crabby when you are surrounded by people who are positive, laughing, and engaging. Growing and changing means that we need to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone.”
When we have a friend who is depressed, Sexton says it’s important to encourage them to seek help.
“Remember that the mind and body are connected,” says Jimenez. “It's just as important to take care of your mental health as it is your physical health. When one is failing, the other can be compromised.”
Joy Stephenson-Laws, an attorney and founder of the national health-and-wellness nonprofit Proactive Health Labs, notes that proper nutrition can help combat depression.
“Credible research shows that nutrition can play a key role in preventing and managing depression,” she says. “As women we have to ensure we absorb adequate amounts of the right nutrients in order to increase our chances of not becoming depressed.”
Stephenson-Laws notes that several studies have shown an improvement in the severity of depression when participants were given 125 to 300 milligrams of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime. Foods containing magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, kefir, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate and bananas.