Women between the ages of puberty and sexual maturity, around age 50, are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorders, or dual diagnoses of both.
The disparity of mental health and mood disorders among women versus men correlates with environmental and social stressors that affect women specifically, as well as biological factors.
Risk Factors of Depression and Anxiety among Women
Clinical depression and anxiety are two of the most common mood disorders that affect women at some point in their lives. The prevalence of mood disorders can be attributed to gender-specific risk factors, including biological, genetic, reproductive, and environmental variables that can increase vulnerability to mental health issues.
Women who are affected by substance abuse issues, such as alcohol or opioid use disorder, are also at greater risk of developing depression and anxiety symptoms, and vice versa. The comorbidity of psychiatric illnesses and addiction are high among women, although symptoms of one disorder may present sooner than the other.
The most prominent risk factors of depression and anxiety for women include:
- family history of psychiatric and mood disorders
- physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in early childhood
- unresolved trauma such as the loss of a parent before age 10
- history of mood disorders in early adolescence
- emotional, environmental, physical, or social stress
Link Between Female Hormones and Depression
Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between reproductive hormone sensitivity and the prevalence of depression among women from the age of puberty throughout the reproductive life cycle, up to menopause.
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Female sex hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone, can impact moods and behaviors when they are in a state of flux. While moderate fluctuations normally occur during reproductive shifts and changes, such as puberty, menstrual cycles, and pregnancy, more volatile hormonal changes can adversely affect mental health.
Disruptive hormonal fluctuations and imbalances can increase vulnerability to symptoms of depression, which can develop over time if left untreated. These can be exacerbated by external factors including stressful life events, health complications, social pressures, and sexual or emotional trauma
The following are hormone-related mood disorders that affect many women:
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD)
- perinatal depression
- postpartum depression
- perimenopausal depression
- postmenopausal depression
Link Between Female Hormones and Anxiety
Significant hormonal changes can also induce anxiety in many women who are more sensitive to fluctuations in reproductive hormones. Women who have lower than normal estrogen levels are more vulnerable to anxiety-related disorders, especially PTSD.
Studies on the connection between estrogen and female anxiety have shown that women with higher levels of estrogen experience less emotional distress, even when dealing with trauma. Women who experience decreased estrogen levels due to irregular hormonal imbalances are more at risk of PTSD or other anxiety disorders.
Dual Diagnosis of Depression and Anxiety among Women
Depression and anxiety disorders tend to go hand in hand, with overlapping and co-occurring symptoms. Women with substance use disorders have a much higher risk of having dual diagnoses and vice versa, whether they have pre-existing psychiatric illnesses or developed symptoms as a result of addiction.
Women with dual diagnoses are often hindered by a lack of social support and decreased quality of life, decreasing their chances of success in recovery. They are also at higher risk of experiencing traumas related to their co-occurring substance abuse, anxiety, and depression, which compound symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
It is critical that women with depression, anxiety, and any other mental health or mood disorder get the treatment and support they need to recover in a safe and healthy environment. Dealing with trauma and triggers in therapy is imperative for helping women who are affected by depression and anxiety understand the causes of their symptoms and how to effectively cope with them with healthy strategies.