Women's Health: Taking Care
What our mothers couldn’t tell us . . . and our daughters need to know.
(page 5 of 5)
They didn’t always have a name for it, but women have always suffered from depression. Even the earliest research suggests they get depressed more often than men—and it’s not all because of hormones. “Yes, hormones play a role, especially during the premenstrual and postpartum periods, but we’ve found that more often they exacerbate a condition in someone who already is predisposed to depression,” says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at Yale University and author of Women Conquering Depression (Holt, 2010).
Although mild and temporary periods of sadness may be classified as depression, the term “clinical depression” describes a more severe, persistent form of the disorder. Signs may include sleep disturbances, significant weight loss or gain, fatigue, loss of concentration and loss of interest in daily activities.
While she acknowledges there are chemical causes for depression—and very effective medications that can treat them—in her book, Nolen-Hoeksema says that many women are depressed in part because they have a tendency toward what she calls “self-focused coping.” When faced with stressful relationships or situations, many women turn inward and overanalyze things rather than act to change them. Says Nolen-Hoeksema: “Women are more interpersonally sensitive, and more likely to get depressed over things that happen to other people.” This kind of “rumination” can also set in motion a vicious cycle that often includes drinking or eating disorders.
“The best way to break this pattern is to acknowledge it,” says Nolen-Hoeksema; depending on the severity of the depression, a woman may need a combination of self-help strategies, cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. “The worst thing she can do is think some more, in the hopes of figuring things out,” she adds.
One of the first signs that your daughter may have a tendency toward depression is the extent to which she cares what other people think of her. “If a girl is so worried about her status in her peer group that she tries to make herself over, that’s the first red flag for a parent,” says Nolen-Hoeksema. “It’s important to have lots of conversations with your daughters. Talk to them about body image, sexual activity, peer pressure.” In short: Open up the dialogue early on, so they’ll feel comfortable talking about serious matters like depression down the road.
A girl who is a “high ruminator” will likely become a woman with the same tendencies, says Nolen-Hoeksema, but self-esteem can help her move past it. “Help your daughters find interests and skills they are good at, sports that emphasize athleticism instead of how they look. Teach them to be themselves and to accept themselves for who they are.”