Underlying Health Causes of Depression

The compassionate well woman care doctors at All About Women discuss common health conditions in women that can cause depression

While depression is not just a women's health issue, it adversely affects far more women than men. In fact, women are two times more likely than men to suffer from major depression; the American Psychological Association notes that depression is considered the most significant mental health risk to women of all ages.

The underlying cause of depression, though, can vary greatly from woman to woman. While depression may be a case of genetic predisposition or a result of difficult socio-economic conditions, sometimes depression can also be a side effect of another health factor.

For women, there are several underlying health issues that can cause the symptoms of depression to manifest. Here we’ll discuss what depression looks like, as well as health conditions specific to women that can cause depression.

What Does Depression Look Like?

Though everyone feels down at some point, depression is characterized as feeling in a depressed mood for more than two weeks and experiencing a loss of interest or pleasure in activities, accompanied by at least four other of the following symptoms:

  • Changes in sleep, weight or appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Decreased energy
  • Recurrent feelings of death or suicidal thoughts

Underlying Causes of Depression

If you experience such symptoms for more than two weeks, you should make an appointment with a local well woman provider. Your doctor will ask about life conditions that could be affecting your well being; she should also give you a thorough physical to make sure that your depression is not caused by any of the following health factors:

  • Thyroid Problems: Depression can be a sign of underlying thyroid issues for some women. You may not at first suspect an underactive thyroid because many of the symptoms are similar to ones related to major depression: lethargy, tiredness and depressed mood. However, these symptoms can be coupled with other signs such as unexplained weight gain and excessive hair growth.

  • Anemia: Many women are surprised to learn that low iron levels (called anemia) can cause depression to manifest. Women with anemia have many similar symptoms to depression including low energy levels and difficulty sleeping and concentrating. You may have low iron if you are pregnant, a vegan or vegetarian, or if you have heavy periods. Restoring iron levels can help alleviate depressive symptoms.

  • Hormonal Changes: While society often makes light of women being "hormonal," true imbalances or shifts of female hormones can cause many adverse symptoms for women, including depression. There are three well known instances where hormone levels can cause or contribute to depression in women:

    • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): Women who suffer from PMDD have mood swings, depression and anxiety the week before menstruation to such a point that it interferes with their normal functioning.

    • Postpartum depression: Extremely fluctuating hormone levels after birth, as well as the new pressures of motherhood can lead to PPD, which can be extremely dangerous for both mother and child. Learn more about the symptoms of PPD.

    • Menopause: The waning hormone levels of menopause, coupled with life stressors can contribute to depression in menopause. Learn more about how to stay mentally well during menopause.

Regardless of what may or may not be causing your depression, it's important for you to seek help. Depression is a common and very treatable condition; your well woman practitioner can help you make the first steps towards wellness.

Our caring gynecologists and midwives at Northern Florida's All About Women understand that mental wellness is an important part of physical wellness. If you believe you may be experiencing depressing, contact us immediately to make an appointment.

View All General Women's Health Articles