Women going through perimenopause and menopause experience symptoms that affect them physically, mentally, and emotionally. For a lot of people, it is a challenging time with ups and downs. Some people believe that menopause can directly cause depression. However, it’s not that simple. There’s a difference between feeling down and having major depression. But there are links between menopause and depression. The trick is telling the difference between normal mood changes and clinical depression.
Menopause Blues or Depression?
Mood changes are a normal part of perimenopause and menopause. The emotional effects of menopause are sometimes referred to as the “menopause blues.” The menopause blues may include mood swings, irritability, or confusion. You may also experience fatigue, which contributes to emotional strain.
However, sometimes women who are menopausal or perimenopausal develop clinical depression. While the menopause blues can make you temporarily unhappy, depression is more persistent and consuming. Symptoms of major depression, which is also called clinical depression, include:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or sorrow that last more than two weeks
- Extreme fatigue or the feeling that you’re always tired
- Feeling like you are living in slow motion
- Loss of interest and enjoyment in activities that you used to like
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of guilt
- Appetite and weight changes
- Trouble sleeping
- Sleeping too much
- Problems concentrating
- Thoughts of harming yourself or dying*
*If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact an emergency department immediately. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has a National Helpline that is open 24/7, 365 days a year.
The Depression and Menopause Connection
Menopause and depression are linked in several ways. The dramatic shift in hormones can cause mental and emotional symptoms (like the ones mentioned when we talked about the menopause blues). The onset of those symptoms may feel overwhelming and lead to depression. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a depressive disorder, hormonal changes may exaggerate your symptoms.
Hormonal symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause can also overlap with or look like symptoms of clinical depression. The physical changes your body goes through during perimenopause and menopause can also take a toll on mental health.
Also, menopause is a time when many women feel vulnerable because it signifies the passing of time or loss of youth. Women who are of menopausal age also tend to face other challenges like the loss of parents, children leaving home, and health decline. These can all trigger feelings of grief that turn into clinical depression.
Other Risks and Causes of Depression
There is no single known cause of depression. Mood disorders and mental health conditions may have a variety of contributing factors that are biological, emotional, social, or economic. Some things that may contribute to depression in women of menopausal age include:
- Medical conditions
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Loss and grief
- Drug and alcohol use
- Changes in daily life due to retirement
Managing Menopause and Depression
If you have severe symptoms of depression associated with perimenopause or menopause, you should consult your doctor. A menopause practitioner can help you manage your symptoms with medications or hormone therapy. While hormone therapy is mostly used to treat other menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, there is evidence that it can help with emotional symptoms as well. However, you will need additional tools to help if you do have depression.
Antidepressants are often part of menopause management because so many women report mood changes during perimenopause and menopause. These medications along with other coping strategies are often effective for treating menopause and depression.
There are things you can do in addition to taking your medication that will help with emotional changes, whether they are associated with menopause or not. The following are useful when coping with depression or other mood disorders:
- Find someone to talk to. This could be a professional counselor, a friend, or a family member.
- Find a creative outlet or hobby that makes you happy and gives you a sense of achievement.
- Stay connected to your family and friends. Try and reach out when you feel isolated.
- Exercise and eat healthy. This will benefit your overall health and have been shown to help improve mental distress.
Dr. Karen Clark of Chapel Hill Gynecology is an experienced OB/GYN that specializes in menopause management. If you are dealing with menopause and depression, she can help develop a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Call Dr. Clark at (919) 960-2720 to schedule an appointment.