Why is Depression More Common in Women? Causes and Risk Factors

Having discussed depression in general, there is a need to discuss female depression separately because it differs in the sense that women are more prone than men to being depressed, the causes of depression in women are different, and the symptoms too differ. Women are almost two times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men.

This is due to the responsibilities and stress of the woman towards family and society and the changing pattern of the reproductive hormones during the menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause.

The various potential causes and risks, which contribute to depression in women, are being exploited to come to conclusive evidence because this mental disorder in women is much more complex.

Depression is more common in women due to the biological, hormonal, and social factors that are exclusive to women. Women are also more sensitive than men and that makes them more susceptible.

A woman plays important roles in life. The list is endless: sister, mother, she feeds the family, she looks after the sick in the house, she also works for the family, and more.

Again, she has to undergo hormonal changes in her body such as during puberty, during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause, which produce disturbing and depressing changes in her psychologically.

Again, social pressures that are unique to a woman’s life make her more prone to get disturbed mentally.

Add to it the tensions of everyday life, such as differences with spouse or friend or at home and at work. All this makes her more prone to being mentally disturbed.

Here we are discussing those specific causes, which are exclusive to women. However, do read the causes, which are general and common for all, for an overview of why you develop depression.


A family history of depression increases the risk in a woman. It does not mean that a family history always leads to depression in a woman because many women with such a history do not develop this condition at all.

Similarly, there are many cases of women without a family history who develop depression. But, the fact remains that a hereditary trait can predispose women more.

Biological changes 

Certain physical changes do occur in the brain, which lead to depression but what those changes are is still not known. Certain parts of the brain do not function as they should.

Brain imaging studies such as MRI have shown that the appearance of the brain of a person with depression looks different than the normal brain appearance. But the reason for these changes still lies undetected. Such changes are a smaller hypothalamus, which is noticed in such people.

Brain Chemicals 

Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, serotonin or norepinephrine, and which are responsible for the mood sentiment.

These are the chemicals, which the brain cells or the nerve cells use to communicate and send signals to and fro from the brain to the body. In depression, changes in the levels of these chemicals are seen and are believed to have a direct bearing on developing a low mood.


Depression is often seen in teenage girls at the time of attaining puberty and during the menstrual cycle. Changing mood patterns are common during puberty in girls but they are temporary and do not cause depression.

During puberty, the depression rate is higher in girls than boys and as girls attain puberty earlier, depression too sets in earlier in girls than boys. It is believed that the hormonal changes that take place during puberty contribute to the higher rate of this condition in girls than boys.

Indeed, starting at puberty, young girls are at the greatest risk of developing major depression and mental disorders worldwide.

Puberty contributes to depression in the following ways:

  • The emergence of sexual differences during puberty is believed to play a likely and vital role.
  • Conflicts with other members of the family due to mood changes.
  • Additionally, increased pressure of performance in academics and sports, especially in ambitious girls, is another driving factor.
  • Development of the body especially in girls during puberty is closely linked to self-esteem. Poor endowment (poor development of vital stats) leads to poor self-esteem and risk of depression.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Women often face symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) such as abdominal pain and bloating, headache, breast tenderness, fatigue, anxiety, and irritability just before the onset of menstruation.

For most, these PMS symptoms are short-lived. In a few percentages of the young women, these symptoms can be quite disabling, often causing severe problems in their life, work and in a relationship.

Such a condition is called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), a type of depression, which warranties treatment.

It is believed that the hormonal fluctuations seen during the menstrual cycle are responsible for PMDD.

These changes in the levels of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are believed to disrupt the function of the neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, which are believed to be responsible for the mood of the person.

Other factors like genetics and lifestyle factors also play a role in female depression.

Depression and Pregnancy

The hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy can only be described as dramatic. These changes contribute significantly to increasing the risk of depression in women during pregnancy.

Other conditions such as a miscarriage, an unwanted pregnancy, and infertility also contribute to the cause of depression in women.

Being pregnant and carrying the unborn child is a time of great anxiety for the mother-to-be. Lack of support and relationship issues at such a time can be quite depressing and can lead to depression.

Post-Partum Depression in Women

Postpartum depression refers to a more serious form, which is seen in one out of ten mothers who have given birth. The National Institute of Mental Health defines postpartum depression as severe depression, which a new mother develops within one month post delivery.

Perimenopause and Menopause

Menopause is another period in a woman’s life when hormonal levels fluctuate wildly. Similarly, is the case when there is an early onset of menopause and after menopause when the risk of developing depression is high due to fluctuating hormonal levels.

Risk of recurrence in this period is high in women who have had a history of depression in the past.

Social and Lifestyle Causes

  • Lower Income and Status. Being discriminated against is common in women especially those belonging to the minority race. Lower income and added responsibility of children often makes a woman feel helpless and low. Self-esteem is hurt and all these factors greatly increase the risk of depression in women.
  • The load of responsibility. A married and working mother has to fulfill the responsibilities of a mother, wife, working woman and housewife. At times these responsibilities and strains do take their toll and the mental stress can cross the stress threshold and make the woman a potential candidate for depression.
  • Physical and Sexual Abuse. This is more common among girls than boys. The humiliation of such a trauma and abuse especially in childhood does stay embedded in the mind and increases the risk of depression in adulthood. The incidence of physical abuse, rape, and sexual harassment are potential risk factors for women to develop depression.
  • Disturbance in married life. Dissatisfaction along with strained relationships in marriage contribute to a feeling of helplessness and makes the woman more prone to getting depressed.
  • Financial problems. Lack of money for household and children expenses is a very potent cause for a woman to feel helpless and low. Add to it the need to maintain a reputation in society and friends. This can be a chronic problem and again the feeling of being helpless creeps in, increasing the risk of female depression.
  • Loss of a parent. Loss of a parent before the age of 10 years can be a big blow on the mind of the young girl and she feels a great loss of support and a feeling of helplessness, making her a potential and high-risk candidate for depression.
  • Long-term use of oral contraceptives especially those with high progesterone content can induce depression in women.
  • Use of gonadotropin stimulants used to treat infertility can predispose a woman to depression.