Depression and Menopause
Experts from the London Women’s Centre tell you how to handle the depression that too often occurs with menopause:
Women are particularly vulnerable during menopause, as they tend to experience huge hormonal changes, often significantly affecting moods. During menopause, women are four times more likely to suffer from depression than those under the age of 45.
What is depression?
Depression is a common but serious mental health illness that affects how a person feels, thinks and acts. It is the feeling of extreme sadness and can lead to various other problems, both emotional and physical, if not properly treated. For a diagnosis of depression, symptoms must last for at least two weeks.
If you are constantly feeling unhappy or worthless, losing interest in things you used to enjoy, are noticing changes to your appetite or sleeping pattern, have a loss of energy or are having suicidal thoughts, then it is likely you are suffering from depression.
Depression and sadness are not the same
The death of someone we love, the ending of a relationship, or losing your job are all stressful experiences that normally lead to feelings of grief and sadness, of which a person might describe themselves as feeling “depressed”. While the grieving process is difficult and shares many of the same symptoms of depression, depression is a mental illness which requires medical attention and is not to be confused with sporadic episodes of sadness or mood swings.
Depression and menopause
The underlying cause of depression in menopausal women is a hormonal imbalance caused by decreased estrogen levels. Estrogen stimulates our serotonin levels – the mood-boosting neurotransmitter in our brains which is responsible for making us feel good. Therefore, a decrease in estrogen often means a decrease in serotonin and thus a lower mood.
Menopause symptoms are often the same as those faced by people with depression, including sadness, feeling irritable, sleep disturbances, anxiety and lack of concentration. As such, women may think that these problems are a natural part of the aging process and fail to seek the right medical diagnosis and treatment. If depression is left untreated in older women, it can increase the risk of developing serious health conditions such as heart attacks and bone fractures.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you think you are suffering from depression, you should speak to your doctor immediately. The doctor will carry out an evaluation and may take a blood test to rule out other health issues such as a thyroid problem. Thankfully, depression is treatable and many options exist to help improve the lives of its sufferers.
For depression that is moderate to severe, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants, which often need to be taken for several weeks or months before noticing a real improvement in symptoms. If the medication is not working, or having negative side effects, the doctor may decide to prescribe a different type.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is often prescribed to menopausal women to replace the lost estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body, helping relieve symptoms.
Therapy is an effective treatment option for many people with depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aims to alter thinking and help people see things in a different light, by attempting to change behaviors and recognize distorted thoughts. The number of sessions needed will depend on individual circumstances and the severity of depression.
There are a number of actions a person can take to help manage their symptoms themselves. This includes making positive lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, having a balanced and nutritious diet, avoiding alcohol and establishing positive sleeping habits. Moreover, ensuring you have a good support network around you and taking time to do things you enjoy are indispensable in helping fight depression.