I'll admit that when I first read news reports that actress Heather Locklear was suffering from anxiety and depression, my first thought was: What does she have to be depressed about, with that perfect body, great hair, and all that money? Not to mention boyfriend Jack Wagner? (Full disclosure: I had a major crush on him back when I was in middle school and he played Frisco on General Hospital.) I felt the same way when I found out that a childhood friend of mine was experiencing a bout of depression. This friend also seems to have everything going for her: two adorable sons, a devoted husband who's a surgeon, a house on the lake. Oh, and she runs marathons.
In the course of writing articles on depression, I've interviewed many women who've told me that their friends and families simply cannot understand why they're depressed when they don't appear to have any reason to be sad. Of course, I've also written about how legitimate sadness caused by, say, a nasty divorce, death of a parent, or house foreclosure may be too quickly diagnosed as clinical depression and too quickly treated with antidepressants.
The actual trigger that sends someone spiraling down into a pit of hopelessness varies, of course, from person to person. Genes play a role since depression runs in families. And sadness, stress, or anxiety that lasts for weeks or months can sometimes become full-blown depression. Several recent studies suggest additional causes like obesity, probably because of the social stigma as well as related health problems, and insomnia, which paradoxically can also be caused by depression. With regards to the latter study, I shouldn't have been too surprised by another finding this month showing that postpartum mothers of twins had higher rates of depressive symptoms due to severe lack of sleep. But then there was the study that found that rural, unmarried women are also more likely to get the blues—so it seems we're not protected either way.
Just as the causes of depression vary, effective treatments aren't one size fits all. Some women benefit tremendously from antidepressants, while others find the drugs don't do much to alleviate their symptoms. Many experts now believe that a permanent lifestyle overhaul—involving such things as exercise, exposure to sunlight, and improved social connections—may be necessary to keep a person from relapsing into depression again and again. The mental health website psychcentral.com has some good information about women and depression. Check it out if you're experiencing symptoms, or pass it on to a friend who's going through it. Certainly, it's more helpful than asking: What could you possibly have to be depressed about?
If you think you might be depressed—experiencing feelings of worthlessness, severe fatigue, and a severe decrease in your activity levels—take our self test.