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Are menopause and depression related?

Beverly, 43, is an artist and a sculptor. At the age of 19, when she lost her father to a car accident, she’d fallen in a deep depression, which lasted more than a decade. With a combination of therapy and medication, she’d seemed to find healing by the age of 30.

But many who’ve had long-term depression say that they’re never cured; they find remission. For Beverly, “I’ve been hyperaware that something that traumatic, for some people, never really goes away,” she says. “I’ve tended to panic even when I just get sad about certain things, and I feel like I’m just waiting for it to come back.

“But for the most part, for a long time, I handled it.”

In 2020, after enjoying a new artistic directorship role with a startup, she felt the pains of depression begin to return.

“It was like one thing after another,” she recalls. “My aunt, who’s the closest person I have to a mother, was diagnosed with cancer. Then the pandemic hit, and I couldn’t travel, which is my happiness activity. Then the pressures of my new job just started piling up and my immune system started failing, and I was getting sick every few weeks.

“It was like my heart, body and spirit just started crashing.”

Beverly assumed her depression had returned with a fury.

Depression, a mood disorder that causes persistent and constant feelings of sadness, is very common. People who experience depression report some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Mood wings
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • A sense of worthlessness
  • Deep, delusional guilt
  • Impaired ability to think or concentrate
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in any previously enjoyable activities
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • In extreme cases, suicide attempts

Having just recently moved to a new city because of her job, Beverly sought the advice of a new physician, so that she might be placed on antidepressants again, which she hadn’t relied on for the last four years. During her appointment, while listing her concerns, her doctor happened to ask, “Beverly, are you experiencing symptoms of perimenopause?”

As it turns out, many women experiencing menopause (or in Beverly’s case, perimenopause) say that they experience feelings of depression because of such wild shifts in hormonal levels. Beverly’s history of depression exaggerated her feelings, but one does not have to have an existing diagnosis to find themselves in menopausal or perimenopausal depression.

But let’s go back a moment, and discuss what menopause is.

Menopause is when a woman’s menstrual period ends, because her ovaries have stopped creating estrogen. When a woman has missed her period for 12 consecutive months, she’s considered in menopause, and can no longer get pregnant. Perimenopause typically happens when a woman is in her 40s, with menopause possible between 45 and 55.

Decreasing estrogen is said to be the culprit behind the perimenopausal or menopausal depression. Apart from this, symptoms of menopause include irregular periods, vaginal dryness, insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats, memory problems, changing feelings about sex.

The connection between the two conditions – menopause and depression – is now being recognized. Many experts in the medical community are respecting guidelines that have been recently created for the evaluation and treatment of menopausal and perimenopausal depression.

While there are no surefire reasons a woman in menopause would also experience depression, it’s said that it’s due to a variety of factors, like hormonal changes. But it could also be due to underlying vulnerabilities or susceptibleness to depression. When estrogen levels begin to dip, it’s not uncommon for a woman to feel sad, irritable, angry, exhausted, or withdraw. She may have difficulty concentrating or focusing, which may affect her life at home and at work, adding to her stress.

Diagnosing perimenopausal or menopausal depression is similar to how other mood disorders are diagnosed, and treatment is possible. It depends on the individual, but it could be a combination of talk therapy and antidepressants, or simply one or the other. Some women have been placed on hormone replacement therapy, not as a treatment, but to enhance mood, as estrogen might help alleviate moderate or mild symptoms. It is of extreme importance to speak with your own doctor about what may be best for you.

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