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Depression danger zones for women.

Biological danger zones and environmental triggers play a complex and powerful role in the high rate of depression in women between the ages of 35 and 65. Women for Women, a panel of female physicians, sponsored by the American Medical Women's Association, cited certain periods in a woman's life when her biological makeup combined with external factors can increase her likelihood of becoming depressed. These "depression danger zones" include premenstrual syndrome or its more acute form, premenstrual dysphoric disorder; post-partum depression; and menopause, when women have an increased incidence of heart disease and breast cancer.

Approximately 20% of women--compared to 10% of men--suffer from clinical depression, beginning most often in adolescence. Medical research is beginning to uncover some clues as to why women may be more vulnerable to depression. There is evidence that it is related to an imbalance in the activity of the chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, particularly low levels of serotonin. A 1997 study found that men synthesize serotonin at a rate 52% higher, and this difference may be a factor in women's higher incidence of depression.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and, to a greater extent, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) were highlighted as triggers for depression for women. PMDD differs from PMS in that its symptoms are as severe as those of major depression, with high levels of anger, irritability, anxiety, and mood swings, which may interfere with ability to function socially or at work. They occur for a full week before and begin to subside a few days after the onset of menstruation. Women taking the antidepressant paroxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, have shown a significant reduction of depression, anxiety, anger, and irritability.

The psychological and physiological changes women experience during PMS-PMDD, post-partum, and menopause are joined by a number of psychosocial factors, many of them focused on changing female roles in Western society. The conflicts surrounding parenting and career, as well as the pressures on single mothers, can result in lowered self-esteem, various mood disorders, and a reluctance to seek help. Studies indicate that women become depressed not simply because they have multiple roles, but when they have little or no control over how they play out those roles. Other factors that contribute to depression include trauma and abuse in childhood, though the condition often does not manifest itself until menstruation begins.

The panel concluded that medical practitioners in all areas of specialty--particularly psychiatrists, psychologists, obstetricians/gynecologists, and primary care physicians--should work in collaboration with one another and in partnership with their patients to learn all there is to know about identifying depression through screening and about treating it through a combination of talk therapy and medication.
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Title Annotation:American Medical Women's Association panel on biological danger zones and environmental triggers
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 1, 1998
Words:441
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