Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/8/2021
Depression is a common mental illness that affects tens of millions of adults in the United States every year.
Research has found that depression is almost twice as common in women as it is in men. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 10.4% of women aged 20 or older reported recent feelings of depression, compared to just 5.5 percent of men.
Depression can cause a range of symptoms. By identifying these symptoms early, you’ll be able to take action and seek the help you need to treat depression.
Read on to learn what depression is and how it can affect you, including the physical and psychological signs and symptoms you may experience as a woman.
You’ll also find the most common types of depression, including forms of depression that are unique to women such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and postpartum depression.
Finally, discover what you can do to get professional help and treatment if you’ve recently started to experience the symptoms of depression.
Depression is a mood disorder that can affect every aspect of your life — from your thoughts and feelings to your daily life, physical health and even your abilities to maintain relationships and a professional career.
Women have a higher risk of developing depression than men. Your risk of depression may also be higher if you:
Have a personal or family history of depression
Have recently undergone a major life change, trauma or severe stress
Have a related physical illness or use certain types of medication
While depression can develop at any age, it’s most common in adulthood. If you feel depressed, it’s important to seek mental health treatment to help you make progress and recover.
Feeling sad, disappointed or simply uninterested in day-to-day life is a common issue that just about everyone deals with from time to time.
However, when these feelings become persistent, they and others are often a sign that you’re depressed.
Most mental health professionals suggest paying specific attention when negative feelings or other symptoms persist for two weeks or longer.
Here are the most common symptoms of depression in women, as well as how each symptom may affect your day-to-day life.
Depression can change the way you feel, causing you to take on a pessimistic thought process that may not improve over time.
When you’re depressed, you may have pessimistic, despondent feelings — and a general belief that life can’t and won’t improve.
You may also feel hopeless about the future and find it difficult to enjoy things that would otherwise make you happy.
It’s common and normal to experience ups and downs — periods of happiness followed by low moods, sadness or frustration.
However, when you’re depressed, a sad, anxious or “empty” mood can feel overwhelming and never ending.
In fact, you may find that your mood remains negative in just about any situation, even when there’s no clear, obvious reason for you to feel sad or anxious.
While many people associate depression with psychological symptoms, being depressed also causes changes to your physical health.
If you’re depressed, you may feel fatigued and lacking in energy. Simple, everyday tasks that you never had problems with may feel physically demanding.
You may also feel exhausted or weaker than normal without any clear reason.
Depression can cause an issue called psychomotor impairment: a slowdown in your speech, movement and certain aspects of your brain function.
When you’re depressed, you may speak and move at a slower pace. Your facial expressions, eye movements, speech patterns and volume, tone and articulation may also change, causing you to communicate with and respond to other people differently.
In some cases, these symptoms can interfere with everyday situations such as spending time with others, learning or working in a professional setting.
Depression can cause a diverse range of sleep-related problems, including insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep) and hypersomnia (oversleeping and tiredness).
You may find it difficult to fall asleep, even at a normal bedtime. This may gradually affect your sleep habits as you go to bed later in the night and sleep less.
Some people with depression are able to fall asleep normally, but wake during the night or early in the morning. This may affect your energy levels and mental focus during the day.
Finally, some people with depression fall asleep easily and are able to stay asleep throughout the night, but find it difficult to wake up at a normal time in the morning.
These changes in your ability to maintain a normal sleep schedule may have an effect on your professional and personal life.
Depression can affect your ability to think and concentrate. You may find it difficult to focus on challenging, mentally demanding tasks, or notice that you seem less able to remember certain information than when you felt healthy.
You may also find it difficult to make decisions, whether about small things or important factors that affect your life.
This difficulty concentrating, remembering things and making decisions could affect your ability to work, study or complete everyday tasks.
When you’re depressed, hobbies and other activities that you normally enjoy may no longer feel fun, exciting or fulfilling. As such, you may lose interest in things you previously enjoyed.
Hobbies such as art, sports or travel may no longer grab your attention. You may find that when you participate in these hobbies or activities, you no longer feel the same amount of pleasure or satisfaction as you previously did.
As a result of this, you may stop participating in hobbies or activities that previously accounted for a large amount of your time.
Depression can cause a variety of different aches and pains, which may affect almost all parts of your body.
Common physical symptoms of depression in women include headaches, muscle and joint pain and abdominal cramps or other problems that affect your digestive system.
You may also experience tenderness and soreness in your breasts.
These problems may develop suddenly without a clear cause, and for some women, can continue even with active treatment.
Because depression affects your moods, feelings and general outlook on life, it may contribute to frustration, irritability and impatience.
You may find that you become irritated more easily than normal, with small issues causing you to feel upset, disappointed or annoyed.
Some women with depression also develop feelings of guilt or anxiousness.
Depression often causes changes in your appetite and eating habits. You may feel hungrier than usual and more interested in eating large or frequent meals, or develop a weak appetite and reduced level of interest in food.
Research has found that women who experience depression symptoms typically gain weight during adulthood.
However, the link between depression and weight gain isn’t perfectly clear. While many people gain weight while depressed, others reduce their caloric intake and experience weight loss.
When depression is severe, it may cause you to develop suicidal thoughts. If you feel suicidal, you should seek help and assistance as soon as you can from a healthcare provider or trusted friend or family member.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides free and confidential 24/7 support for people in distress.
Although many people view depression as a single condition, there are several different forms of depression that can affect you. Common types of depression include:
Major depressive disorder (MDD). Also referred to as major depression, this type of depression affects an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States. It can cause negative thoughts, emotions, a loss of interest in activities and other symptoms.
Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia). This is a persistent form of depression that lasts for two years or longer. The symptoms of persistent depressive disorder are often less severe than those of MDD.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is a form of depression that often appears in late fall or early winter. The symptoms may last for four to five months and improve with seasonal change. A sunlight lamp might be helpful.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that can cause extreme irritability, tension and depression from five to 11 days before the start of your menstrual cycle.
Postpartum depression. This type of depression can develop during pregnancy or after giving birth. It’s generally more severe and long-lasting than the “baby blues” many women experience after childbirth.
Other types of depression, such as psychotic depression or atypical depression, can also cause many of the symptoms listed above.
This guide to the types of depression discusses these forms of depression and their symptoms, causes and treatment options in more detail.
Depression is a serious mental illness. When it’s left untreated, it can have a significant negative impact on your mood, thoughts and feelings that affects every aspect of your daily life.
If you’re feeling depressed, it’s important to seek help. You can do this by:
Talking to a family member, partner or friend. Not only can these people assist you in getting professional help — family members and friends can also keep you social, active and focused on making progress.
Contacting your primary care provider. If you have a regular healthcare provider, let them know that you’re not feeling well. They’ll be able to listen to you and, if necessary, refer you to a mental health specialist.
Reaching out to a mental health professional. Get in touch with a mental healthcare provider in your area. If help isn’t available locally, options such as Hers online psychiatry and online therapy services allow you to access expert help from the comfort and privacy of your home.
This guide to dealing with depression provides more information about the steps that you should take to seek help if you’re feeling depressed.
Depression is treatable. In fact, research shows that up to 60 percent of people with depression experience improvements in their symptoms after six to eight weeks after using medication.
To treat depression, your healthcare provider may recommend the following:
Antidepressants. These medications improve your mood and make the symptoms of depression less severe. This list of depression medications explains the most common medications used in depression treatment.
Psychotherapy. Talking to a therapist, either in person or online can help you make progress and overcome depression. Therapy may be used on its own or in combination with medication to treat your symptoms and help you recover.
Lifestyle changes. It’s often possible to improve your mood and reduce the severity of your depression symptoms by changing your lifestyle to include more exercise, healthy eating, socializing and other forms of self care.
Depression can produce a diverse range of signs and symptoms for women, from changes in your moods and feelings to a lack of energy, aches and pains, difficulty completing daily activities and even sleep-related issues such as insomnia.
If you’ve been feeling depressed for two weeks or longer, it’s important to reach out to a friend, family member or mental health professional for advice and assistance.
You can also access help using these online mental health services, which include online therapy and psychiatry from licensed providers.
Your health and wellbeing can be within reach, and a healthcare professional can help you step onto the road to recovery.