Depression in women


Depression in women

Fast facts on depression & anxiety in South Africa, according to SADAG:

  • 1 out of every 6 South Africans (+10 million people) suffer from depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems
  • 1 in 3 women in Cape Town suffers from postnatal depression.
  • 41% of pregnant women in Kwazulu-Natal are depressed (3 x times higher than the prevalence in developed countries.)
  • Six million South African have post-traumatic stress disorder because of crime and motor vehicle accidents.
  • Less than 16% of South Africans get help for mental illnesses

More information on depression in women

How do black women experience depression?

Black families don’t always know how to recognise depression. If a black woman has a mental disorder, it is seen as weakness, and it is intolerable for a black woman to be weak. Black women are viewed as nurturers, caretakers and healers of other people and are supposed to be strong. They are often told to ‘snap out of it’’. Talking to people about your problems can sometimes be considered “complaining.” Visiting a therapist is for ‘’crazy’’ people.

Black people with symptoms of depression typically go to a traditional healer with the belief that they will be given traditional counsel or medicine to make it go away.

It’s also a cultural thing for black families to lean heavily on religion above other means of support. ‘’Pray yourself out of it’’. Sometimes black culture relies on faith so much THAT we let it replace other necessary means of mental health care. Spiritual healing powers cannot be disregarded. However, there is a danger that patients with chronic cases of depression will go undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated, which could lead to suicide. According to research, depression is present in 90% of suicides.

One of the myths around depression is that ‘’it is normal’’ for certain people to feel depressed, such as teenagers, old people, new mothers, menopausal women, or chronic illnesses. The truth is depression is not a normal part of life for anyone. Black women are statistically the most under-treated for depression.

How depression differs between men and women?

Some of the distinguishing factors in how depression differs between women vs men include:

·         Women feel anxious and scared; men feel guarded

·         Women blame themselves for the depression; men blame others

·         Women commonly feel sad, worthless, and apathetic when depressed; men tend to feel irritable and angry

·         Women are more likely to avoid conflicts when depressed; men are more likely to create conflicts

·         Women turn to food and friends to self-medicate; men turn to alcohol, TV, sex, or sports to self-medicate

·         Women feel lethargic and nervous; men feel agitated and restless

·         Women easily talk about their feelings of self-doubt and despair; men hide feelings of self-doubt and despair-considering it a sign of weakness


What causes depression in women?

  • Hormonal issues – pregnancy, menopause, infertility, post-partum depression
  • Genetic factors – mental illness biologically runs in families
  • Loneliness and isolation; a lack of social support.
  • Family history of depression.
  • Job loss
  • Divorce
  • Early childhood trauma or abuse.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse, or use of certain medications
  • Marital or relationship problems; balancing the pressures of career and home life.
  • Family responsibilities, such as caring for children, spouse, or ageing parents.
  • Experiencing discrimination at work or not reaching essential goals, losing or changing a job, retirement, or embarking on military service.
  • Persistent money problems.
  • Death of a loved one (especially a parent before age 10) or another stressful life event that leaves you feeling useless, helpless, alone, or profoundly sad

How does depression affect your kids?

It is a mother’s worst fear that somehow her depression with all its tears, anxiety, apathy, and sadness will destroy her kids and cause them to have psychiatric conditions down the road. Being a mother with a mental illness like depression often leads to the mom feeling incompetent and believing that someone else will do a much better job raising her kids.

Mental illness can be genetic or run in families to suffer from the same disorders as their parents along the line. The same can be said for many other diseases that run in families, for example, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, cancer, etc.

The question is, why do we perceive having a mental illness as different from physical illness?

Look, for example, at the children of a woman who has breast cancer. They cope. They become resilient. They know their mom is ill, and they might develop more compassion and empathy as a result. They might grow in ways they wouldn’t have if they hadn’t had to deal with it. Why should a child whose mom suffers from depression be different?

The difference is that a mom with breast cancer doesn’t feel the kind of guilt about having cancer than you do about having depression. Why do people feel guilty about suffering from depression? It is because society doesn’t see it as the debilitating disease it is? Is it because people assume you can ‘’get out of it’’ if you want to?

The guilt associated with this illness is what imprisons depressed mothers and hinders recovery.

In order to be the best mothers we can be, we must move beyond our guilt and focus all of our energy on doing whatever we can do to get better.

Coping with depression

Reach out and stay connected

When you’re depressed, the tendency is to withdraw and isolate so that connecting to even close family members and friends can be challenging. Staying connected to other people, and taking part in social activities will make a world of difference in your mood and outlook. Reaching out is not a sign of weakness, and it won’t mean you’re a burden to others. Your loved ones care about you and want to help.

  • Talk to one person about your feelings
  • Help someone else by volunteering
  • Have lunch or coffee with a friend
  • Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly
  • Accompany someone to the movies, a concert, or a small get-together
  • Call or email an old friend
  • Go for a walk with a workout buddy
  • Schedule a weekly dinner date
  • Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club
  • Confide in a clergy member, teacher, or sports coach

Do things that make you feel good.

Be kind to yourself. Do things that relax and energise you. While you can’t force yourself to have fun or experience pleasure, you can push yourself to do something, even when you don’t feel like it. You might be surprised at how much better you feel once you’re out in the world.

  • Live as healthy as you can
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • Get some exercise at least three times per week.

Come up with a list of things that you can do for a quick mood boost. The more “tools” for coping with depression you have, the better. Try and implement a few of these ideas each day, even if you’re feeling good. Here are a few ideas:

  • Spend some time in nature
  • List what you like about yourself
  • Read a good book
  • Watch a funny movie or TV show
  • Take a long, hot bath
  • Take care of a few small tasks
  • Play with a pet
  • Talk to friends or family face-to-face
  • Listen to music
  • Do something spontaneous


Challenge negative thinking.

Faulty thinking methods that convince us of a reality that is not true are called cognitive distortions. They are inaccurate thoughts that reinforce negative thought patterns or emotions.

The beliefs people have about themselves and the world around them come in 2 categories.

1.            Sensible or rational beliefs: they are true; they make sense or are helpful.

2.            Foolish or irrational beliefs: these are untrue, don’t make sense or are not helpful.

There are a few main cognitive distortions that you need to know about and perhaps recognise in yourself:

1.            Filtering: it refers to how many of us can somehow ignore all of the positive and good things in our life and focus solely on the negative. It can be far too easy to dwell on a single negative aspect and ignore many good things.

2.            ‘’Black and White Thinking’’: is all about seeing black and white only, with no shades of grey. It is all-or-nothing thinking, with no room for complexity or nuance. If you don’t perform perfectly in one area, you may see yourself as a total failure instead of simply unskilled in one area.

3.            Overgeneralization: is taking a single incident or point in time and using it as the sole piece of evidence for a broad general conclusion. For example – you went for a job interview. It was a bad interview, and you didn’t get the job. Now you assume you are bad at interviews – period.

4.            Jumping to conclusions: refers to the tendency to be sure of something without any evidence at all. For example, you belief someone dislikes you without the flimsiest of proof.

5.            Blaming: We assign our responsibility for an outcome by blaming others for what goes wrong.

6.            Crazy-making: When confronted by others, they tell them they are wrong and off-track with their observation – thereby telling them they can’t trust their perceptions.

7.            Compartmentalizing: The person divides life into compartments, where one has nothing to do with the rest. It is a way of keeping thoughts, feelings and behaviours separate from the other parts of your life.

8.            Hopeless & helplessness: The person believes nothing can improve the situation and feels all is lost.

You can fight negative thoughts by challenging them. To challenge them, you have to turn the idea into a question. For example:

  • Negative thinking:  I am useless
  • Question: Am I hopeless?
  • Rational answer: Although I have done some stupid things, I have also done some excellent things with success, so I cannot judge myself as a useless person

You can do this with any negative thought that often bothers you. The best is to write the negative thought down in your diary, plus how you challenge it and your more rational reply to that thought.  Over time you will build up a list of disputed, negative thoughts that are not true. The aim is to change your thought patterns, the beliefs you may or may not know you are holding, your attitudes, and your behaviour to help you face your difficulties and more effectively strive towards your goals. Remember: Thoughts are not facts.

When to get help

The self-help steps above are just a part of treating depression. It is always advisable to get a professional evaluation and opinion if you struggle with depression from a psychiatrist and psychologist. Medication and therapy are often necessary to help lift a person suffering from depression out of the black hole.

Feeling suicidal or thinking about suicide is always considered as severe.


As a general rule, the level of danger suicidal people present to their own lives increases significantly as they progress along with the steps towards suicide. It is to say, people’s risk goes up as they move from:

LEVEL 1:  thinking about suicide (e.g., suicidal ideation)

LEVEL 2:  planning their suicide

LEVEL 3:  collecting the necessary equipment

LEVEL 4: trying to commit suicide.

If you are thinking about the word suicide, we advise you to get professional help. Depressed people can often not trust their judgement anymore. Listen to people around you. Take their advice.

Get help


You can chat with an online counsellor on our helpline: LIVE CHAT.

It is a text-based chat, and you may remain anonymous.


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