Women

Women suffer from depression at twice the rate as men. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that this ratio holds true across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic boundaries. Depression by itself can be incapacitating, but depression can also occur along with medical conditions or can lead to other conditions.

Research reported by NIMH has found that depression may increase a woman's risk for broken bones. Mineral density in the hip is 10 to 15 percent lower in women with severe depression than normal for their age. This figure is significant — it translates into a 40-percent greater risk for hip fracture over a 10-year period.

About Those Hormones

Hormones undoubtedly play a role. Beginning with puberty, a woman's body is concerned with reproduction. The onset of menstruation, called menarche, begins around age 12. The age varies, and some girls do not begin menstrual periods before they're 16.

Each month, during the menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate, causing mood swings that can range from mild to severe. For a woman's entire reproductive life, these hormones will play a significant role in her emotional health. When a woman becomes pregnant, hormones again take center stage. (See here for a discussion of postpartum depression.)

It wasn't all that long ago that women who reported symptoms of pain or nausea and other discomforts were told, “It's all in your head.” Most women knew differently, but there was no one to listen and so many bore their suffering in a climate of enforced silence. In some cases, depression resulted. Science has since enlightened the medical profession, and it is now official: Hormonal changes can affect both your physical and mental well-being.

Essential

During perimenopause, hormone production (estrogen and progesterone) begins to slack off. Your ability to become pregnant also decreases, and you may begin to experience some of the effects of menopause, such as insomnia, hot flashes, and mood fluctuations. Perimenopause can last a few months or several years. These reduced and fluctuating hormone levels can trigger depression.

Going Through the Change

Commencing around the age of 40, a woman enters perimenopause, the time before menopause. Once again, hormones run rampant over a woman's psyche. The average woman reaches menopause in her early fifties and can then look forward to bypassing the feminine products aisle in the grocery store.

Beyond hormones, women have the added stress of caring for home, children, and eventually, parents. Technology has both helped and compounded the problem. Women can now do more with less time — and they do. Fatigue sets in, and depression can follow. You need to take the time to take care of yourself. This is not a luxury — it's a necessity. Recognizing depression's symptoms early on and seeking help is something you owe yourself and your family.

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