Major Depressive Disorder in Women

Major depressive disorder is the term doctors use to officially describe one of America’s most common mental health issues: major depression. Research indicates that women may have substantially higher chances of developing this condition than men. That’s true, in part, because women have gender-specific risks for a condition called postpartum depression, which sometimes meets the criteria for a major depression diagnosis. Women tend to seek help for their depressive symptoms more often than men. In some cases, treatment may take place in a women’s depression treatment center.

What Is Major Depressive Disorder?

Major depressive disorder gets its name because it is the most severe type of depressive illness. Everyone who meets the criteria for a diagnosis of this disorder experiences at least five out of nine specific symptoms for two weeks or longer. These symptoms are:

  • A predominantly “down” or depressed mood
  • Seriously declining interest in normally enjoyable activities
  • Unexplained changes in your weight
  • Unusual sleeplessness or sleepiness
  • Physical fatigue
  • Aimless, uncontrolled body movements
  • The presence of damaging emotions such as worthlessness, helplessness or guilt
  • Concentration problems and other thinking difficulties, and
  • Suicidal thinking, planning and/or action, or a more general preoccupation with death

Some people only experience one bout of major depression, or bouts that only recur every once in a while. However, other people experience more frequently recurring symptoms.

Frequency in Women

Research indicates that women have roughly a 100% higher chance of experiencing major depression than men, regardless of their financial means or racial/ethnic background. However, no one really knows for sure if this figure is entirely accurate. That’s true largely because women affected by depression have substantially greater odds of seeking help, whether in a women’s depression treatment center or some other setting. Gender differences in this area may help mask the presence of diagnosable major depression in a significant percentage of affected men.

Postpartum Major Depression

However, women do have unique depression risks associated with the postpartum period following childbirth. In some cases, postpartum symptoms are present, but don’t reach the severity required for a major depression diagnosis. In other cases, these symptoms do meet the criteria for the illness. A 2010 study in the journal American Family Physician indicates that the overall major depression rates in postpartum women (5% to 7%) are actually not very different from the rates found in women in general. However, the same study found that certain postpartum women have much higher risks for the condition. You fall into this elevated risk group if you:

  • Have experienced postpartum major depression in the past
  • Have had previous bouts of major depression outside of the postpartum period
  • Have a postpartum major depression family history
  • Experience highly stressful or traumatic events while pregnant, or
  • Lack an adequate support system during postpartum recovery

You may also have increased risks for developing postpartum major depression if you give birth to twins, triplets, etc., or if you develop gestational diabetes during your pregnancy. The official term for postpartum major depression is major depressive disorder with peripartum onset. Women with this condition tend to make up a substantial portion of the patients in the typical women’s depression treatment center.   Sources: National Institute of Mental Health: Depression Mayo Clinic: Depression (Major Depressive Disorder) American Family Physician: Postpartum Major Depression Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: Depression Statistics Pearson Clinical: Major Depressive Disorder – DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria

Scroll to Top