Being sad is a normal emotion to feel on occasion. When that feeling does not go away and is accompanied by other symptoms like a general disconnect, loss of interest, fatigue, and disruption in sexual function, depression may be the culprit. Depression is a common mental health disorder, and data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that women are almost twice as likely as men to develop it.
Depression symptoms can interfere with daily life and can make going to work, enjoying family, and doing everyday activities difficult. There is no one cause of depression; biochemistry, genetics, major life events, and certain medications can cause depression.
What Types Of Depression Are Unique To Women?
Postpartum depression- or peripartum depression refers to depression occurring during pregnancy or after childbirth. The term peripartum recognizes that depression associated with having a baby often begins during pregnancy.1 An estimated one out of eight women experience symptoms of postpartum/ peripartum depression.
Postpartum depression is different from the “baby blues” which up to 80 percent of new mothers will experience. Symptoms of the “baby blues” may include crying for no reason, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety. These symptoms last for a week or two and generally resolve on their own without treatment.
Postpartum depression lasts longer than the “baby blues” and the symptoms can be debilitating. Women may experience trouble sleeping, intense feelings of guilt, difficulty bonding with their baby, fear of harming themselves or the baby, and difficulty concentrating.
Research suggests that rapid changes in hormone levels during and after pregnancy can influence mood and may contribute to postpartum/peripartum depression. Seek help from a medical professional if you believe you are struggling with postpartum depression.
Perimenopause is the transition into menopause and may contribute to depression due to the intense changes in hormone levels. Perimenopause begins when the ovaries start to run out of viable eggs and wind down their function as a result. This causes estrogen and progesterone levels to fluctuate. The same hormones that control your menstrual cycle can also influence serotonin. When these levels drop, serotonin levels also fall which can lead to depressive episodes.
How Is Depression Diagnosed?
Depression is diagnosed when five or more symptoms have persisted for two weeks or more. A healthcare professional will consider the following based on the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders):
- Severity of symptoms which can include: feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness, diminished interest or pleasure in many or all aspects in life, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, diminished ability to think or concentrate, angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
- How often the symptoms occur
- How the symptoms are affecting daily functioning
- Family history
A healthcare professional may also perform a physical examination. Often, a blood test will be done to see if the depression is due to a medical condition like a thyroid problem or a vitamin deficiency that can mimic depressive symptoms.
How Is Depression Treated?
Depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders. Between 80% and 90% percent of people eventually respond well to treatment. And almost all patients will gain some relief from their symptoms. There are many ways to treat depression; medications and psychotherapy are the most common and are typically used together as a treatment plan. Psychotherapy works by discussing your condition and the related symptoms with a mental health professional. Antidepressants work by boosting the activity of brain chemicals like noradrenaline and serotonin to help regulate mood.
How Does Depression Affect The Vagina?
Depression and medications to treat depression may influence your sexual function. Neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in the brain, like dopamine, norepinephrine, and oxytocin are all responsible for healthy sexual function. When your brain thinks desire, your body responds by increasing blood flow to the sex organs. This increased blood flow triggers arousal and vaginal lubrication.
In a person with depression, the sex-related chemicals are out of balance, and medications to lessen depression symptoms like SSRIs may increase sexual dysfunction. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin into the nerve cell that releases it. This means that serotonin will stay active in the brain and body for longer. Women taking SSRIs may experience vaginal dryness, difficulty becoming aroused and sustaining arousal, and may experience discomfort and pain during sex.
Can Sexual Dysfunction Be Treated?
Sexual dysfunction is one of the predominant reasons people discontinue using antidepressants prematurely. Talking with a licensed mental healthcare professional is a positive first step in addressing depression symptoms and helping you navigate through sexual dysfunction. Some mental health professionals may suggest cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to reduce negative thoughts and behaviors by challenging and rationalizing them. Techniques like cognitive restructuring can help you understand your thought patterns, the emotion or trigger behind them, and the actual reality of the situation. Through the help of a licensed therapist, they will be able to present you with a more realistic perspective.
What Else Can Be Done?
- Introducing a vaginal moisturizer into your daily routine will not treat depression symptoms but will help minimize the discomfort due to vaginal dryness caused by antidepressants. Using a vaginal lubricant and moisturizer helps to hydrate the delicate tissue of the vagina and vulva and ease any pain and irritation. When the mood does strike, be ready with Mia Vita Personal Lubricant and Moisturizer to combat any decrease in vaginal lubrication. This will help intercourse be more comfortable.
- When you are struggling with sexual dysfunction, try redefining what intimacy is. By only classifying intimacy as sexual intercourse, you create pressure to perform to that expectation, only exacerbating the issues. Intimacy can look like anything you define it as. If you are not in the mood to roll around in the sheets, cooking a meal together, snuggling on the sofa, or going for a walk together are ways to help you feel more intimate with your partner and strengthen your relationship.
Depression affects everyone differently, but it is not a battle you have to face alone. There are different treatment options and services available: