How common is depression?
Depression is repeatedly referred to as ‘the most common mental health problem’ among women as well as a problem that women are particularly prone to. Women are 2-3 times more likely to suffer depression than men and statistics from the Department of Health (1999) show 50% of all women will suffer depression at some point in their lives. Mixed anxiety/depression is also a common women’s problem. Both anxiety and depression can be triggered by stressful life events or adversity. Depression is also most common among women caring for children under 5.
Whilst many women report feeling low or depressed (common terms in everyday speech) at times as well as reporting stress or anxiety, feelings of tiredness and disturbed sleep, those feeling depressed or suffering mild depression may receive anti-depressants by their GP.
Depressive Disorder is a more serious condition and may include:
- Depressed mood virtually every day for most of the day (feeling sad, empty, tearful)
- Loss of interests or loss of pleasure in activities
- Significant weight loss or change of appetite
- Insomnia or hypersomnia most days
- Agitation, restlessness (which must be noticed by others)
- Fatigue or loss of energy most days
- Feeling worthless, excessively guilty most days
- Problems with concentration, difficulty making decisions
- Recurrent suicidal thoughts
(DSM-IV in Stoppard 2000)
A diagnosis of Depressive Disorder is generally made by a mental health professional and is often be triggered by severe, negative stressful events – particularly those which entail loss, disruption, humiliation or entrapment. Women who receive social or emotional support may be protected against clinical depression following such events.
What causes depression?
Whilst traditional western medicine increasingly explains depression as an ‘imbalance in brain chemistry’ other research challenges this suggesting a link between symptoms and social or environmental factors – relationships, bereavement, following childbirth, stressful events, unemployment, social/economic/financial problems, single parenthood, poverty and, for women, what’s described as the “double day”– a name for the working woman’s experience of juggling work and childcare or household responsibilities. Whilst depression is thought to be caused by an interaction of biological, psychological and social factors, the influence and effect of environment is considered most significant in the onset of depression with stress, stressful or traumatic events or chronic stress triggering depression. Lack of social support or isolation, in particular the lack of an intimate confidant with whom one feels valued, can also lead to depression. Those who have suffered negative or stressful childhood experiences are also more prone to depression as early negative experiences can change brain physiology. Low self-esteem has been found to lead to a vulnerability to developing depression. Treatment for depression should therefore consider and address both early and present environment.
Whilst there is increased awareness of the problem of post-natal depression there is also a growing awareness of the problem of pre-natal depression. It is thought that 10-20% of women suffer from pre-natal depression and in a study assessing mood and pregnancy the “highest point” for depressed feelings was in fact at before the birth – at 32 weeks – rather than 8 weeks after birth. pre-natal depression may therefore go unnoticed due to a lack of awareness and assessment. Symptoms include sadness, anxiety and panic. Those women considered most vulnerable are those who have inadequate support during pregnancy. It is possible that there may also be a vulnerability to extremes of hormonal changes for women due to genetic factors thought there is some considerable disagreement as to whether vulnerability to stress/anxiety/depression is due to genetic or environmental factors – previous stressful experiences, adverse childhood upbringing, trauma etc.
Post-natal depression and anxiety/depression
Post-natal depression affects about 1 in 7 women and may be due to stress caused by physical, hormonal and social changes following childbirth, a negative or traumatic experience of childbirth and high social expectations and beliefs about maternity. Whilst childbirth can be a joyous, magical, even spiritual experience for women, many women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth may be different – even disappointing or traumatic – and may leave a new mum feeling conflicted, disappointed, isolated, guilty or that there’s something wrong with her and that she’s failed as a new mum. Many women also experience anxiety or overwhelm. It is most likely to develop within the first 5 weeks after birth and women suffering post-natal or post-partum have an increased risk with subsequent births.
- Post-natal depression may be triggered, in part, by:
- Feelings around a traumatic, disappointing or exhausting childbirth experience
- Undue anxiety, stress or concerns around caring for a newborn
- Unexpected or unpleasant emotions following childbirth: sadness, disappointment, guilt, anger, frustration, feeling overwhelmed.
- Difficulty adjusting to lifestyle and psycho-emotional changes following childbirth
Treatment for depression
Treatment for depression may involve either CBT/counselling or medication or a combination of both. Studies show that both medication and CBT/counselling are effective. However recent studies have raised some concerns about the safety of antidepressants during pregnancy.
To find out more about natural psychological treatments for depression and to discuss your situation contact me now.
Whilst expert guidelines state severe depression should be treated with anti-depressants using CBT/Counselling to treat mild or moderate depression or anxiety/depression may enable the condition to be effectively treated whilst offering extra protection to your unborn baby. For women suffering mild to moderate depression who are concerned about potential risks to their unborn baby CBT/counselling may offer an effective, safer alternative to drug therapy.
NB: this is not intended as medical advice. If you think you are suffering from depression you should see your GP for medical assessment and to discuss treatments options including the benefits and risks of pharmacological therapy. Whilst Hypnotherapy/CBT psychotherapy are clinically recommended options for depression and can be used both alternatively to or alongside anti-depressant treatment this information should not be used as an alternative to seeking medical advice.
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