Treating Depression and Anxiety in Women

Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can affect anyone. However, it's vital to recognize that women of all ages are particularly susceptible to these mental health challenges.  

“Depression is about twice as common in women as it is in men,” says Lauren Osborne, M.D., vice chair of clinical research in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine. “That’s been the case ever since we’ve been measuring depression across the lifetime of people worldwide. There’s about a 10-15% incidence of depression in any given year for women.”  

It's not a coincidence that women are more likely to experience anxiety and depression compared to men. Multiple factors contribute to this gender disparity: 

  • Biological differences: Brain structure and chemistry differences between genders can affect susceptibility to mood disorders. 
  • Hormonal changes: Fluctuations in hormones, particularly during menstruation, pregnancy, after childbirth (resulting in post partum depression and anxiety), and menopause, can influence mood and emotional wellbeing. 
  • Social pressures: Women often face societal pressures related to appearance, family, and career, which can trigger anxiety and depression. 

What Are Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in Women?  

Depression and anxiety are not limited to persistent sadness. In women, these conditions can manifest in various ways, including: 

  • Impaired concentration: The ability to focus and concentrate may be severely compromised, affecting work and personal life. 
  • Irritability: Irritability can be a prominent symptom in women. It can strain relationships and hinder daily functioning. 
  • Low energy: Overwhelming fatigue and a pervasive sense of exhaustion can accompany these conditions, making daily tasks feel like unreasonable challenges. 
  • Social withdrawal: Women experiencing anxiety or depression may withdraw from social interactions, isolating themselves from friends and loved ones. 
  • Unhealthy coping strategies: In an attempt to alleviate their emotional distress, some women may turn to unhealthy coping strategies, including alcohol, substance misuse or self-harm. It's crucial to recognize that these strategies provide only temporary relief and can exacerbate the underlying conditions. 

“If we notice that somebody around us is starting to isolate more, isn't wanting to participate in activities, is seeming sad or down, not just for a morning or a couple of mornings, but for a couple of weeks at a time—that's when I would start to worry that there's something going on,” says Dr. Osborne.  

How Do Antidepressants Help Women with Depression and Anxiety?   

Depression is an illness just like diabetes is an illness,” says Dr. Osborne.  

“But women are reluctant to take medications for depression. They feel like it’s a personal failure or something they ought to be able to get out of themselves. And that just simply isn’t true. It has a biological component, and we really need to treat it and address it.”  

Many women can benefit from taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), although it’s common for some people to need to try a few different SSRIs before finding one that works for them. 

SSRIs can help treat the symptoms of depression and anxiety by: 

  • Balancing brain chemistry: Imbalances in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, are often associated with mood disorders. SSRIs help to restore this balance, which can lead to an improvement in mood and a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety. 
  • Enhancing serotonin levels: SSRIs work by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation, in the brain. By blocking the reuptake process, SSRIs increase the levels of available serotonin in the brain. 
  • Reducing anxiety: In addition to treating depression, SSRIs are also effective in some people for managing various anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and panic disorder. SSRIs help reduce the intensity and frequency of anxiety symptoms, making it easier for individuals to cope with stressors and daily life. 
  • Regulating mood: By increasing serotonin levels, SSRIs can have a stabilizing effect on mood, helping individuals feel less overwhelmed by negative emotions and experience an overall improvement in emotional wellbeing. 

How Can Therapy Help Women with Depression and Anxiety? 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are effective approaches for women struggling with depression and anxiety.  

CBT helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns, teaching healthier ways to respond to stressors. It empowers women to gain control over their thoughts and behaviors, reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms.  

“CBT posits that people have automatic thoughts about themselves,” says Dr. Osborne. “If we can change and block the nature of those thoughts, we can improve their mood.” 

IPT, on the other hand, focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and communication. It helps women navigate life changes, resolve conflicts and manage emotional challenges, thereby alleviating depression and anxiety by addressing underlying relational issues.  

“IPT posits that low mood is often intertwined with interpersonal conflicts or relationship problems and really tries to tackle those things together,” says Dr. Osborne.  

Both therapies offer practical tools for enhancing mental well-being and promoting a balanced, fulfilling life. 

What Self-Care Can Women Do to Help Their Depression and Anxiety?  

Self-care is a vital tool for women managing depression and anxiety. It involves prioritizing one's physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing through practices like mindfulness, exercise, adequate sleep, sunlight/bright artificial light exposure, and relaxation techniques.  

By dedicating time to self-care, women can reduce stress, improve emotional resilience, and regain a sense of control over their lives. This self-nurturing process promotes self-awareness and self-compassion, helping to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

“Care for yourself is care for your loved ones and your family,” says Dr. Osborne. “We know, for example, that when women have postpartum depression, it has a negative impact on the whole family, including their ability to bond with their child and their relationship with their partner. Taking care of your mental health is taking care of your family.”  

Concerned that you may be struggling with anxiety, depression or both? Talk with a provider who can help you address your mental health. Find a provider today.