Depression in women: types, causes and signs

Depression in women is entirely treatable, and we can help you to address the unique causes of your depression, learn effective ways of coping, and take steps towards recovery.

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Page medically reviewed by Dr Olakunle Oladinni, Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director based at Priory Hospital Hayes Grovein February 2022.

Many women experience depression throughout their lives. They can find it impacts on them in lots of different ways, including physically, emotionally, professionally and socially. In today’s modern world, it’s normal for women to have lots of different roles – wife, mother, professional, friend, caregiver, homemaker – so it’s not surprising that women experience pressure and ups and downs from time-to-time.

Depression is more common in women than in men. In fact, statistics show that women are twice as likely to struggle with depression than men. This could be down to lots of different reasons, including:

  • Hormonal changes that are specific to women. For example, as a result of periods, pregnancy and menopause
  • Women being more likely to seek help for their depression than men, which results in increased diagnoses of the condition

Additionally, depression in women usually occurs earlier in life, lasts longer and is more likely to recur, when compared to men.

Signs of depression in women

Depression has lots of different symptoms that can affect anyone, no matter their gender. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include:

  • Intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Feeling irritable and getting angry more easily
  • Losing interest in activities and hobbies that were once important to you
  • Finding it hard to concentrate or make decisions
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Anxiety
  • Low energy and feeling tired all the time
  • Sleep problems – either not being able to get to sleep, or finding that you’re sleeping more than usual and struggling to get out of bed in the morning

However, there are also some depression symptoms that are more likely to be seen in women than men. These include:

  • Eating and sleeping more, and more likely to gain weight
  • Experiencing stronger feelings of guilt and worthlessness, which mean they can be very self-critical
  • Suicidal feelings are more common in women, but they are less likely to act on their suicidal feelings than men

Symptoms and causes of depression in women

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If you need help assessing yourself, our free assessment tool could help.

Causes of depression in women

There are lots of potential causes of depression, which can increase the chances of you becoming depressed at some point in your life, whether you’re a woman or a man. These include:

  • Being the victim of neglect or abuse, especially if this happened when you were a child
  • Going through difficult life events such as bereavement, divorce or losing your job
  • Having a family history of depression or other mental health problems
  • Having a personal history of other mental health problems
  • Struggling with serious physical health problems such as cancer
  • Having certain personality traits such as low self-esteem

As well as these more general causes of depression, there are some that are especially likely to affect women.


Women go through hormonal changes at all stages of their lives. These are linked to having periods, pregnancy and childbirth, and going through menopause. Many of these can cause symptoms of depression in women.

  • Periods

Women experience hormonal ups and downs all the way through each month, depending on where they’re at in their menstrual cycles. Some women get pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) which can cause them to be irritable, tired and more prone to emotional outbursts. However, others can have more serious symptoms, where they experience intense mood disturbances, which can impact on their ability to function. This is known as pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and can lead to depression symptoms in women.

  • Pregnancy and birth

Women’s bodies go through lots of hormonal changes during pregnancy and birth (known as the ‘perinatal period’), which can contribute to depression. Also, other issues that relate to pregnancy, such as having fertility problems or going through a miscarriage, can also cause some women to develop depression. After the birth of a baby, many women can have the ‘baby blues’, where they feel generally down and more tearful than usual. However, this normally goes away on its own after a few weeks. However, some women may go on to experience postpartum depression, which is a specific and serious type of depression, that’s thought to be linked (at least in part) to the hormones that women experience after the birth of a baby. Thankfully, there are ways to treat postpartum depression.

  • Menopause

Lots of women experience depression when they’re going through the menopause, which is likely to be linked to fluctuating reproductive hormones that women’s bodies go through during this time. This may therefore be a cause of depression in older women. Also, women who have experienced depression in the past are more likely to get this again when they’re going through menopause or in the period of time leading up to the menopause. Menopause can impact mental health in many ways, and women can experience many other symptoms as well as depression.

  • Hormonal medications

Women may take certain hormone-based medications throughout their lives, including the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). These can also cause depression as one of their side effects.

Female stress response

Women produce more stress hormone than men. This means that women are more likely to develop depression after going through particularly stressful life events such as a bereavement or divorce.

Body image issues

Women are more prone to having issues with their body image, which can be linked to depression. Body image issues can arise during puberty and lead to women having low self-esteem and depression in adulthood.

Juggling motherhood with work and other demands

In modern society, women are faced with lots of different pressures and are expected to juggle different demands, including motherhood and full-time working. This is especially the case for women who are single parents. This can therefore lead to women suffering with stress, which can then trigger the symptoms of depression.

Video: what causes women's mental health issues?

What environmental and biological challenges do women face that make them more at risk of mental health challenges? Join our panel of experts on Perspectives, as they answer this key question.

Types of depression in women

There are a number of different types of depression that can affect both women and men. These include:

  • Severe depression
  • Severe depression with psychotic symptoms
  • Mild/moderate depression
  • Bipolar depression
  • Dysthymia
  • Recurrent depressive disorder

However, women are also more vulnerable to developing other types of depression. As well as the types of depression and conditions that are linked to hormones, such as postpartum depression and PMDD, women are also more likely to suffer with a specific type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), when compared to men.

SAD symptoms are only experienced during the winter months, and are linked to the lack of natural sunlight that we are exposed to during this time.

Female depression statistics

  • Including postnatal depression, 24% of women report having had depression at some stage in their life, compared with 13% of men
  • Younger adults and women were more likely to experience some form of depression, with over 4 in 10 (43%) women aged 16 to 29 years experiencing depressive symptoms, compared with 26% of men of the same age

For more stats, visit our depression statistics page.

Depression treatment for women

Whether you’re a woman or a man, the good news is that depression is treatable and you don’t have to struggle on your own. The most important thing you can do is seek help.

At Priory, we provide expert depression treatment at our hospitals and wellbeing centres, helping you get back on track. Treatment for depression ranges from intensive inpatient stays to weekly therapy, day care or online therapy. We also offer an innovative outpatient treatment for depression, known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which is available at Priory Wellbeing Centre Harley Street. For more information on how we treat depression at Priory, you can visit our treatment programmes page.

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