A Guide to Symptoms of Depression in Women
Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female” and “male” to refer to sex that was assigned at birth.
More people search using the term “women,” so this is used throughout the piece to reflect that trend.
This article will discuss common symptoms of depression in females. It will also talk about how common depression is in females, the differences in depression in males and females, and the risk factors for female depression. Finally, it will go over common types of depression in females and tips for coping with the condition.
The diagnostic classifications for depression are the same for everyone. In order for you to receive a diagnosis of depression, you must experience any of the following symptoms for at least 2 weeks:
- feeling down, sad, or empty, including crying often
- feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- losing interest in hobbies you once enjoyed
- decreasing energy
- difficulty focusing, making decisions, or remembering
- sleep issues
- lack of appetite, which leads to weight loss
- eating to feel better, which leads to weight gain
- thoughts of hurting yourself, death, or suicide
- feeling easily angered, annoyed, or bothered
- persistent physical symptoms that do not get better with treatment, such as headaches and body pain
Females experience these symptoms of depression. While depression looks different for everyone, there are symptoms that females are more likely to experience. Females typically experience a greater number of symptoms in a more severe way than males.
Some of the atypical symptoms of depression that females may experience include:
- reactive mood, which may improve with positive events
- overeating, which leads to weight gain
- excessive fatigue
- feeling sensitive to the rejections of others
Females also report more physical symptoms of depression, such as body pains and headaches.
Females are more likely to experience depression than males. According to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately one-third of females will experience at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime.
Research into the exact causes of depression is ongoing. However, many believe that females are more likely to develop depression due to certain biological, hormonal, and social factors that are unique to them. It is suggested that female hormonal fluctuations may be a trigger for depression, causing it to be more prevalent in females. This belief is at least partly due to increased prevalence often being connected with hormonal changes during certain times, including:
- prior to menstruation
- after pregnancy
While females are more likely to show signs of reactive moods, overeating, and oversleeping, males show signs of depression differently as well. Males who are experiencing depression are more likely to appear angry or aggressive instead of sad, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
The result of this difference is that family members and even doctors may not always recognize this as depression. The NIMH also states that males are often less likely to talk about, recognize, or treat their depression than females are.
Females who are experiencing depression are also at an increased risk of suicide. Males may be more likely to complete suicide. However, females are more likely to attempt it.
If someone you know is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, or at risk of suicide:
- Ask the question, “Are you considering suicide?” even if it is tough.
- Listen without judgment.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Stay with them until emergency services arrive.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful items.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
- Call 988
- Chat with the lifeline
This service is available 24-7.
Learn more about symptoms of depression in males.
None of these factors on their own guarantees you will develop depression. However, these factors may increase your risk.
There are certain biological factors that may increase a female’s risk of developing depression. These factors include:
- Chemicals and hormones: Brain imaging shows that the brains of people with depression are different from those without. The neurotransmitters in the brain act differently in those with depression as well. It is possible that female hormones play a unique role in the increased prevalence of depression.
- Genetics: If you have a family history of depression, you may be at an increased risk of developing the condition yourself.
- Illness: People who experience certain medical conditions may be more likely to develop depression. Depression commonly coexists with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Certain social factors may increase the risk of females developing depression. These social factors include:
- Social oppression: Females can experience social oppression through an imbalance of societal power. However, other more specific types of social oppression may put certain groups at a higher risk of developing depression. Groups that may experience higher rates of depression include:
- females who are lesbians
- females of color
- females of lower socioeconomic status
- females who are unemployed
- Trauma: Research has shown that childhood trauma or abuse, especially sexual abuse, can increase a person’s risk of depression regardless of sex or gender. However, females are more likely to experience sexual trauma, and this may lead to an increased risk of depression.
- Multiple roles: Females often take on multiple roles in their lives, such as mother, partner, and coworker. They often gain satisfaction from these roles. However, it is possible that conflicts among these roles and the stress that goes along with it may increase their risk of depression.
While females can experience any type of depression, there are certain types that are unique to them.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
PMDD is a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). While PMS refers to the moodiness and irritability females commonly experience in the weeks leading up to menstruation, PMDD is a serious condition. PMDD can include symptoms that are disabling. These include:
- anger or irritability
- changes in appetite
- depressed mood
- tenderness in your breasts
- muscle or joint pain
- thoughts of suicide
Perinatal depression encompasses both prenatal depression, which begins during pregnancy, and postpartum depression, which begins after the baby is born. Many mothers who develop perinatal depression can experience symptoms that can make it difficult to carry out tasks, such as caring for themselves, their infant, and others. These symptoms include:
- extreme sadness
If you believe you may be experiencing perinatal depression, contact your doctor.
Perimenopause is the transition into menopause. It is a typical part of a female’s life. There are many symptoms that are often challenging. These include:
While these and other symptoms are common for females to experience during perimenopause, feelings of depression are not typical. You may be developing perimenopausal depression if you experience the following symptoms:
- loss of enjoyment at the start of this transition
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor.
Depression will not affect everyone the same. The symptoms you experience, how severe they are, and how long they last will vary. Depression is treatable, and speaking with your doctor or mental health professional is always a good first step. They may recommend therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
- Get regular exercise.
- Try to get quality sleep regularly.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
- Avoid consuming alcohol.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Share your experiences with others.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes or cannabis.
The diagnostic criteria for depression are the same in both females and males. However, there are certain symptoms that may be more common in females experiencing depression. These include reactive moods, overeating, and oversleeping.
Depression among females is more common than among males. While the exact reasons for this are currently unknown, female hormones may play a role in this increased prevalence. Males being less likely to recognize, talk about, and seek help for depression may also have something to do with this.
Females can develop any type of depression. However, PMDD, perinatal, and perimenopausal depression are types that are unique to females.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of depression, contact your doctor or mental health professional.