Disclaimer: The Australian Suicide Prevention Foundation is providing information only, not medical or psychological assessment or advice
Suicide and Depression in Women
Suicide is traditionally understood to be a ‘men's issue' as the male suicide rate is around four times higher than the female rate. This pattern is fairly consistent across all age groups with the exception of advanced old age where the male to female ratio is even higher.
However, suicide figures reflect only the number of completed suicides and not suicide attempts. Women, in fact, attempt suicide more frequently than men but are less likely to complete suicide. One of the contributing factors is that women are more likely to have an active social network and will make use of this network to discuss both their highs and their lows. Men are far less likely to address such topics.
Another aspect is that depression in women exists at higher rates than for men. No-one knows exactly why, and there are many sociological and biochemical theories suggested. Women are generally more in touch with emotional responses than are men, and while enjoying the emotional positives of life perhaps more, women are far more vulnerable to depression. Depression distorts your viewpoint, so you see only problems and negatives, and cannot see positives or solutions.
In reality, depression in women and men, and relationship problems, will inevitably come to an end, and you would never advise a friend to die because of a temporary illness, or because of a relationship problem, so tell yourself what you would tell a friend.
Please also keep in mind that medical research has repeatedly shown that if you die from suicide, you markedly increase the risk of suicide in family members, especially your children.
What is Depression?
WHAT IS DEPRESSION OR DEPRESSIVE ILLNESS?
We use the term “depression” in normal conversation to describe distress or unhappiness following an unpleasant event that has happened to us. This depression is a perfectly normal response of course, is usually short-lived, and usually resolves rapidly, without the need for any specific treatment.
In contrast, depressive illness, is a much more severe and prolonged condition, with persistent apathy, negativity and difficulty coping, which will affect about 20% of people at some stage in their lives. Those who have not suffered depressive illness can understand more clearly the suffering involved by recalling the most distressed state they have experienced in their own lives (such as a grief reaction), and imagine that feeling continuing for months, for no obvious reason. Depressive Illness is the emotional equivalent of a broken leg. The condition is painful and disabling, but with a very high cure rate. Indeed, many people state they would far prefer to have a broken leg or some other obvious physical problem, which would allow them and the people around them to understand why they are so suddenly disabled.
Depressive illness is similar to cancer in many ways. No-one is immune from either, regardless of age, sex, intelligence, social status, etc. In severe cases, the condition is life-threatening. Early, intensive and occasionally prolonged treatment gives the best chance of totally eradicating the illness, and reducing the risk of relapse. A combination of your own efforts, and appropriate medication, produces much better results than either approach on its own.
WHO GETS DEPRESSIVE ILLNESS?
In the vast majority of people, depressive illness results from a build-up of stress, which eventually causes a breakdown in the body’s chemistry. Factors which increase the risk of developing depressive illness when faced with stress include:
DIAGNOSING DEPRESSIVE ILLNESS :
This illness is diagnosed if you have a few of the following standard complaints in depressive illness. These include :
Huge amounts of research have shown that only certain treatments are proven to work in treating depression.
The best treatment for you depends on the severity of the illness, and on the predisposing factors. Mild illnesses may respond to discussing the stresses, and finding better ways to deal with them (Problem Solving Therapy). Encouragement to think and act positively (Cognitive Therapy) may be helpful. Discussing relationship difficulties has also been shown by research to be effective (Interpersonal Therapy).
For more disabling or severe depressive illnesses, medication is usually necessary to repair the damaged chemistry, as well as dealing with the stresses and predisposing factors. There is also recent research indicating the importance of eradicating depressive illness as soon as possible, to lessen the risks of developing resistant or relapsing depressive illness. It is therefore important to take adequately strong doses of antidepressants, and to remain on the medication for some months after recovery. Antidepressants are not addictive (unlike tranquillisers in some cases), and can only bring an individual’s mood back to a normal level (they are not “uppers”).
NOTE : It is important to avoid alcohol and marijuana when significantly depressed, and certainly to avoid alcohol in anything other than very small amounts; this reduces the risk that you will become more distressed as the alcohol suppresses the normal aspects of your emotions, running the risk of the distressed part of you becoming more prominent and disabling. Also, it is important not to make any significant decisions while depressed, as depressive illness causes you to see only the negative side of situations (making mountains out of molehills), without being able to properly appreciate the positives that also exist.
WHAT CAN OTHERS DO TO HELP ?
The most important role is to understand the illness and indeed the suffering that goes on under the seemingly healthy surface in patients with depressive illness, sometimes described as the “walking wounded”. You cannot give answers to the illness, but a vital aid to recovery is to express understanding and sympathy, while reminding the depressed person that they will recover, despite their own pessimism and fears. “Unconditional frequent contact” is invaluable, Some people need help with practical issues; others mainly need the reassurance of regular contact and reassurance.
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN ?
The idea that you or someone close to you has an illness which is not visible, and does not respond to simply being logical, can be very frustrating and perhaps frightening. Human beings have always been afraid of unknown illnesses, until medical science solved the problem including epilepsy and TB. In time, depressive illness will also lose its stigma, but meanwhile, fantastic rumours and fears will continue about the illness and its treatment.
Depression in Women
In many countries in the western world, it is estimated that 20% of women (and 10% of men) will have at least one episode of depression. Very often, you will not notice this illness creeping up on you, as it makes you very tired, stops you enjoying things, turns off your sexual interest, and makes it difficult for you to think clearly or to read. If you have trouble making decisions, or cannot read and remember as well as you could 12 months ago, it strongly suggests you have depression or a similar psychological illness, which is distorting your thinking. Do not make decisions about your life, or any other major issue, when your thinking and judgment are distorted by an illness that is allowing you to see only negatives, and is magnifying those negatives.
To fill in a questionnaire to see if you have depression, you can go to http://www.depression.com.au and fill in the questionnaire there.
Do remember that depression can be treated very effectively by professionals and by your doctor, and the emotional pain will stop. Visit www.depression.com.au
Read more helpful articles for women listed to the right of this page
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