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Menopause and Depression: Understanding The Connection!

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.

What is Depression?

Feeling sad and hopeless is a part of life. Most people have felt this at some point, especially when it was linked to some life event. For example, a person can feel depressed when they have lost a loved one or something that is dear to them, when life has been particularly challenging or when they feel misunderstood or unappreciated. Depression is therefore an intense feeling of sadness linked to a particular event in someone’s life. This depression will normally last for a few days or weeks. When the depression stretches longer than that, then it is termed clinical depression, and may need to be treated. This condition usually interferes with a person’s daily life, making it difficult to wake up in the morning, eat, and go to work, or perform any other regular activities. The depression also interferes with sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep at night, thereby contributing to fatigue and lack of energy during the day.

What is The Connection Between Depression and Menopause?

The menopausal transition period is the time when women experience physical, emotional and sometimes mental changes. These vary in severity, and in some cases can affect a woman’s quality of life. Some of these symptoms include depression, mood swings, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, hot flashes, osteoporosis, and the cessation of the menstrual cycle.

A number of research studies have studied the connection between depression and menopause. Considering that the symptoms of depression and the symptoms of menopause overlap, it is intuitive to conclude that there is a connection between the two conditions. Some of these symptoms that overlap between depression and menopause include irritability, insomnia, low energy levels, high levels of anxiety, finding it difficult to concentrate on a task, weight changes, etc. The reason that depression and menopause are linked has been explained differently by different research studies. These are explored in the section that explains why depression occurs during menopause.

Menopause Depression Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms that occur during menopausal depression. A woman may find it difficult to explain how she is feeling, or why she is suddenly paranoid and has lost interest in life. However, these symptoms need not interfere with daily life because they can be treated. A menopausal woman experiencing them should explore available treatment options in order to curb menopausal depression.

  • Insomnia: This is the inability to fall asleep at the time a person would like to sleep. It is also waking up in the middle of the night and failing to fall back to sleep.
  • Hypersomnia: This is being excessively sleepy during the daytime. It may or may not be linked to the failure to sleep during the night.
  • Loss of appetite: Not feeling hungry during meal times.
  • Irritability: Easily angered.
  • Persistent sadness: Failing to shake off a feeling of sadness that is unexplainable.
  • Apathy: Being indifferent to what is going on around you.
  • Headaches: These vary in severity, but may occur every day.
  • Low self-esteem: Being overly critical of oneself and pessimistic.
  • Loss of interest in activities: Not motivated to work, play, eat, socialise, etc.
  • Weight changes: This may include noticeable weight loss* or weight gain.
  • Loss of energy: Feeling tired all the time.
  • Social isolation: Separating oneself from social contact.
  • Paranoia: This is influenced by fear and/or anxiety, and involves feeling that everyone is against you.
  • High Anxiety: Feeling highly anxious about life.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Failing to concentrate on regular tasks.
  • Digestive Problems: These can include constipation. It can also include diarrhoea and nausea.

Why Depression Occurs During Menopause?

Various research studies have given different reasons for the occurrence of depression during menopause. Some studies have concluded that the lower levels of estrogen and higher levels of testosterone lead to a depressive state. Other research studies conclude that the high stress levels associated with menopause affect serotonin. This is a chemical in the brain whose main function is to maintain a positive mood. If serotonin levels are low as a result of stress, then a woman will feel depressed.

What Causes Depression at Menopause?

As has already been mentioned, depression can be caused by high levels of stress or lower levels of estrogen. In some cases, depression during menopause can be caused by the emotional changes taking place as a result of menopause. If a woman has unresolved emotional issues that she has been bottling up for a long time, the changes that she experiences as a result of menopause can lead to depression.

Risks Associated With Depression

There are a number of risks associated with depression during menopause which can trigger or increase* the levels of depression that a woman is experiencing. In a research study at Phoenix University, Judy Strauss reported that women who experienced depressive symptoms during menopause are more likely to have a difficult menopausal transition period. They may, with time, experience even more severe menopause symptoms than they did before. Furthermore, a menopausal woman who suffers from depression is also at risk of having difficult relationships and being isolated socially if her family, friends and colleagues do not understand her condition.

Diagnosis of Menopausal Depression

In order to diagnose depression, a doctor will usually ask a number of questions related to your mood. This may also include filling out a questionnaire. The doctor will also run several physical and laboratory tests in order to eliminate* other conditions which may be causing the symptoms.

Is Menopausal Depression Common and Treatable?

Menopause depression is more common than most people realise. This condition often goes unreported and undetected, and women suffer in silence. They are unaware that they have a condition that is treatable and manageable.

Menopausal Depression Treatment

The most common treatment for depression is antidepressants. This will, of course, depend on the reason for the depression and the type of depression a woman has. If the depression is clinical or a mood disorder, then a course of antidepressants and psychological counselling may be prescribed. If the depression is diagnosed as menopause-related, then hormone therapy will be the most likely option. Lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet, ample rest and an exercise plan could also be helpful. A supportive family structure will also assist in reducing* the levels of stress that may be causing the depression.