The experts have differing things to say about menopause and depression. Women who are experiencing symptoms of this mental health issue have a lot to say as well. Let’s untangle some of this talk.
What is depression?
First of all, a person who has a depressed mood feels sad or blue for a brief time and rarely requires any type of treatment. This condition is medically known as dysphoria. “Depression” as a symptom is usually a short-term response to a dramatic life event, such as divorce or the death of a loved one. It also doesn’t usually require treatment, but it can worsen and develop into clinical depression. Depression that occurs most of the day and for more days than not, for at least two years, is known as dysthymia.
Clinical depression is believed to be the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. This type of depression typically requires some type of treatment.
As a refresher, here are the common symptoms of depression:
- Persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or irritability
- Overeating or poor appetite
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Lack of motivation and overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of interest in activities that were once exciting
- Difficulty absorbing information and making decisions
- Thoughts of suicide
What about menopause and depression?
At Johns Hopkins, Jennifer Payne, MD, psychiatrist and director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Center, states that “when women go through sudden hormonal changes like those that come with perimenopause, puberty, postpartum and even their monthly cycle, they’re at a higher risk for depression.”
Basically, the same hormones that control the menstrual cycle also impact serotonin, which regulates mood. When estrogen and progesterone levels drop, so do serotonin levels. This combination of declines contributes to depressive feelings, anxiety, and irritability.
According to Payne, “For some women, these hormonal dips can set off a depressive episode.” This is especially true for women who have had major depression in their past.
It’s also been shown that perimenopausal women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder than women who were not yet experiencing these hormonal changes. In fact, perimenopausal women are four times more likely to develop depressive symptoms than women who were not in this stage of life.
The bottom line is that many women in perimenopause and menopause experience some form or severity of depression. The question then becomes, what can they do about it?
How can you manage depression naturally?
Lifestyle choices can go a long way toward managing depression during menopause.
- Include at least one to two enjoyable activities in your life every day. Doing things you look forward to and like can significantly reduce the anxiety and depressed mood you may feel.
- Approach large or stressful tasks in steps. It can be overwhelming to view a project in its entirety. Instead, take it in steps, like you read a book one chapter at a time.
- Postpone making any dramatic or life-changing decisions (e.g., divorce, buying a house, moving) until you feel better. If you must make a decision, discuss it with people whose judgment you trust.
- Be kind to yourself. It takes time for one’s mood to improve.
- Consider natural or herbal remedies, such as St. John’s wort, passionflower, probiotics, or CBD oil.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle. Eat a whole-foods nutritious diet, exercise regularly, avoid smoking, and limit or cut out alcohol.
- Engage in talk therapy. Talking with a mental health professional can be highly effective in managing depressive symptoms.
- If depression is severe, you should seek medical advice from a mental health professional as soon as possible. Joining an in-person or online support group can be helpful as well.
When to talk to a doctor
If your depressive feelings are have a negative impact on your daily life, seek help from a mental health professional. Antidepressants may be suggested, but be sure to discuss the use of cognitive behavioral therapy or other psychotherapy techniques with your doctor. If you have a history of depression, be sure to let your doctor know this.
Depressive feelings and depression occur among women who are living through perimenopause and menopause. Such feelings can be managed successfully using lifestyle techniques and other nondrug approaches.