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The joys of motherhood are never fully experienced until all the children are in bed.
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Women and Depression

Women and Depression

Depression is a growing problem for societies everywhere. The World Health Organization has named depression as the #4 cause of disability in the world and predicts it will be #2 (after obesity and diabetes-related illnesses) by 2025. Renowned neuro-endocrinologist and Stanford professor Dr. Robert Sapolsky has called depression “the worst disease you can get.”

Depression is not simply a matter of feeling blue; it is a medical illness that affects every aspect of how we think and feel, including eating, sleeping, and how we see ourselves in the world. Depression’s symptoms may include the inability to feel pleasure; disruption in sleep patterns; loss of appetite; a feeling of hopelessness; anxiety; an inability to concentrate; physical symptoms like headaches that won’t go away; and thoughts of hurting oneself.

We all experience periods where we feel down, particularly after we experience a loss or a period of extreme stress, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or home, or after a major illness. Generally we feel bad for a time and then begin to feel better. With depression, the body, the brain, and the mind are unable to transition to feeling better.

What Causes Depression?

The causes of depression include genetics, chemical imbalances in the brain, hormonal factors, and stress. Perhaps because of hormonal factors, women are at greater risk for depression than men, and are at particular risk around their period, after childbirth, and around menopause. Although statistically, women may be at greater risk than men, depression is not a “woman’s disease.”

Postpartum Depression

Depression after childbirth is called postpartum depression and is different than the “baby blues.” Hormonal changes that occur after birth, stress from the changes in life and work routines, and exhaustion can all contribute to postpartum depression.

Many women will have mood swings or feel somewhat overwhelmed with a new baby. This feeling generally goes away after a week or so. Postpartum depression lasts longer and the symptoms are more severe. Some symptoms may include having thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby, or lack of interest in the baby.

It can be hard for a new mother and those around her to detect postpartum depression, because the birth of a child is a time when everyone expects to feel joy. This can make it difficult for a new mother who is struggling with these feelings to seek help, but it is extremely important to do so.

If your feelings of sadness, being overwhelmed, anxiety, sleeplessness, or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby continue for more than a week or two, talk with your AOA healthcare provider. You do not have to suffer. Depression is treatable. You wouldn’t think twice about treating anemia or diabetes, so do not hesitate to seek treatment for postpartum depression.

For more information on postpartum depression, visit

Watch Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s Stanford lecture on depression at