There are no signs of depression that exclusively affect women and not other genders. However, research suggests women are more likely to openly express sadness than men.
A 2020 study notes that, due to traditional gender roles, it is more socially acceptable for women to cry and be vulnerable than it is for men. By contrast, men may be more likely to express anger, try and hide their feelings, or cope with feelings by using substances.
This does not mean women do not experience anger, but they may express their feelings differently. There are also specific causes of depression that only affect those who are females, such as postpartum depression or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Keep reading to learn more about the signs of depression in women.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Depression is a mental health condition that affects mood. It can cause intense emotions, including sadness, low self-esteem, low motivation, or feelings of guilt and worthlessness. It can also cause a lack of emotion or numbness.
- feeling sad, irritable, unhappy, and upset all or most of the time
- loss of pleasure in activities or relationships
- a lack of motivation, which may cause difficulty completing daily tasks
- lack of energy
- difficulty concentrating
- appetite or weight changes
- sleep changes, such as insomnia or sleeping more than usual
- restlessness and agitation
- slow movements or speech
- thoughts of death, self-harm, or suicide
While people of any gender can experience the depression symptoms above, some research suggests that women are more likely to report or display some symptoms over others.
For example, a 2020 study notes that women are more likely to have sadness or to cry than men. By contrast, men with depression are more likely to report anger.
The authors note that this may be due to traditional gender roles. In many cultures, it is more socially acceptable for women to express vulnerability, whereas for men, there is pressure to appear strong.
This is the indirect result of sexism, which perpetuates the idea that women are weaker and more emotional than men. In order to live up to rigid standards of masculinity, men may be more likely to conceal their feelings or to self-medicate in order to cope with them.
This does not mean women never express anger, hide how they feel, or try to cope using substances, though. It only means there is a lower likelihood.
Yes — statistics suggest that depression is nearly twice as common among women than men.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
There are several theories about why this gender difference exists.
A 2020 study notes that the disparity in depression rates between the sexes appears around age 12. This may suggest that male or female sex hormones have an impact, as these begin to increase around the onset of puberty. It is possible these hormones may have differing effects on brain chemistry and the nervous system.
However, it is unclear if biological sex differences play a role in the development of depression, and research in this area is still ongoing.
Another explanation for the gender disparity in depression rates is gender-based discrimination and abuse.
The CDC reports that more women experience sexual assault than men, and that
Women and girls are also likely to experience sexual harassment and objectification. A 2020 study of students from Nepal found that sexual harassment was a risk factor for depression, and another 2020 study suggests self-objectification could also be a risk factor. This is when a person begins to see their own body as a sexual object.
Additionally, there are socioeconomic pressures women face more often than men. For example, they are more likely to become caregivers and to live in poverty than men, according to the United Kingdom’s Mental Health Foundation.
Underdiagnosis and underreporting
A 2021 study suggests that men may under-report depression. According to that research, men are more likely to seek treatment only when their depression has become severe, meaning that many mild-to-moderate cases may not be represented in statistics.
Yes — some types of depression only affect people with female biology. These include:
Perinatal and postpartum depression
Perinatal depression is depression during and after pregnancy. The most common type is postpartum depression.
While many people experience a brief period of depression and emotional vulnerability after giving birth, known as the “baby blues,” postpartum depression is more intense and lasts longer.
Postpartum depression can cause symptoms similar to other types of depression, including feeling very sad and unmotivated. Additionally, a person may feel:
- that they are a bad mother
- disconnected from the baby or trouble bonding with the baby
- a desire to get away from or hurt the baby
The risk factors for postpartum depression
- a previous history of depression or other mental health conditions
- a high risk or traumatic pregnancy
- having negative attitudes toward the pregnancy
- having been pregnant before
- financial problems
- lack of social support
- relationship problems
- getting pregnant young, before the age of 19
- exposure to domestic violence
- lack of decision-making power at home
- lack of partner support
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that causes intense mood changes. The symptoms usually appear before a person gets their period, and then taper off after the period starts or when it ends.
The symptoms of PMDD include:
- mood swings
- depressed mood
- difficulty concentrating
- insomnia or excessive sleeping
- physical symptoms, such as bloating or headaches
- anxiety or feeling “on edge”
In order to receive a diagnosis of PMDD, the symptoms must be directly related to a person’s period, and not an intensification of depression symptoms they already have.
Many things can influence someone’s suicide risk. Depression is a potential risk factor.
Overall, women are
Researchers are not completely sure about why this is, but there are several theories:
- Support. Women are more likely to talk about, and seek support for, depression and suicidal thoughts than men are. This can mean those around them take action to prevent suicide.
- Method. Women are more likely to use drugs to take their own life, whereas men are more likely to use lethal methods, such as a weapon. As there is more chance a doctor can save someone from a drug overdose, this may be why more women survive.
- Biology. A 2020 review states that some researchers believe male sex hormones, known as androgens, may influence suicidal behavior in males. These hormones are associated with aggression, and some evidence suggests that high androgen levels are linked to death by suicide.
No matter what the circumstances are, thoughts of suicide or self-harm are serious symptoms of distress. A person with these symptoms should seek support from a mental health professional.
If someone thinks that a woman they know has depression, they can find advice on how to support them at Mental Health First Aid, a site run by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
The signs of depression in women can be very similar to other genders. However, women may be more likely to express sadness rather than anger. They are also less likely than men to cope via substance misuse.
Additionally, there are specific conditions that cause depression in women who have periods or have given birth. These include postpartum depression and PMDD, each of which has its own set of symptoms.
Depression is a treatable condition, and people do not have to cope with it alone. People with potential symptoms of depression can seek help from a trusted professional.