THE BLOG
06/29/2011 04:37 pm ET | Updated Aug 29, 2011

Depression in Women

Dare a man write about mental illness in women? Yes. Mental illness is a topic that needs to be explored and learned about it. Mental illness isn't something that we should treat as a taboo. It is something that affects your friends and co-workers as well as mine, and families everywhere.

One woman named Deb recently told me of how she feels so alone in that others don't understand what it is like to be suffering from a mental illness. She stated that it has taken over her life, but she is determined not to let it win. Another woman said to me that each day sucks just as much as the rest.

The thing about people suffering from mood disorders is that they are normal people but have to face abnormal challenges that most people couldn't even begin to appreciate. They have to go to work, raise families, take care of elderly parents, pay bills and do all of the other things that are expected of you or I, but they do so seemingly slightly off balance or as if there is a fishing net that has been cast over them.

It's not their fault, they didn't ask for it but all are strong enough to deal with it and most cope successfully. Sometimes, however, the illness gets the best of some people. It might be that they don't have a supportive family or don't have the right treatment. Whatever it is, even the most highly functioning women (and men) have moments of weakness and women afflicted with a mental illness are no different.

The author of Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel, said that "the thing about depression [is that] a human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key."

While it may be a by-product of women more comfortable talking about their emotions or showing depression differently than men (and as such being diagnosed more often) there is a gender gap in depression between men and women. Women are about twice as likely to suffer from a major depression as men. The May 2011 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter noted that "more than mere sadness, depression can make someone feel as though work, school, relationships, and other aspects of life have been derailed or indefinitely put on hold. It can sap once pleasurable activities and leave someone feeling continuously burdened."

For both men and women, genes, hormones, stress and other factors all play a role in the occurrence of depression. One of the most frustrating challenges anyone suffering from a mental illness can face is when treatment is ineffective for them. The Harvard Mental Health Letter further noted that "unique differences in life experiences, temperament, and biology make treatment a complex matter; no single treatment is right for everyone." While this is true, it is also true that there is hope; people do recover from depression.

More than 10 percent of women take anti-depressants. Studies show than 65 to 85 percent of people get some relief from medication, compared to about 25 to 40 percent of people taking a placebo. While this is promising, the flip side of it also says that medication might not work for everyone and, as such, keeping an open mind to other treatments is important. There is a growing body of research that stresses the importance of a natural diet and exercise in curbing the effects of depression.

Psychotherapy is a very important aspect of treatment and many believe that this should be used before medication is attempted. Others believe that psychotherapy is most effective when used with medication. The most important thing is for a patient to find that right balance with her clinician.

About 10 to 15 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression (within thee to six months after delivery). This is something that no woman chooses to suffer from and is not her fault. Seeking treatment is very important, nothing to be ashamed of, and is especially important for the newborn.

Australian psychologist Dorothy Rowe said "depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer." I've worked in prison and in jail for several years; they aren't places one can just break out of with ease. Neither is depression.