Depression and Menopause Explained
Depression and menopause can be looked at in two ways. On the one hand, there are mood changes that relate to changing levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
And on the other hand, depression that isn’t associated with these hormones, and thus doesn’t respond to treatments that correct them.
Because of the way estrogen affects the brain, women who are perimenopausal may suffer from depression and anxiety. Estrogen increases the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin help lift our mood, so if levels of these are low as a result of less estrogen in the body, depression can result. This is the reason anti depressants, which stop these neurotransmitters from breaking down, are effective.
But this is not the case for all depression in women with menopause. Women who have had periods of depression before, say, post partum depression, or other forms of depression, are more likely to suffer from major depression during perimenopause. One clue that this may be the case is when you don’t feel better after taking HRT.
Understanding depression and menopause
Depression and menopause is a complicated picture. When we age, other changes in our biochemistry can lead to depression as well. For example, the thyroid gland may not function as well. DHEA, an androgen hormone, is produced less. And given our youth oriented culture, many issues around worth and self image come to the fore. On top of that, the shift in the way we relate to ourselves and the changes that occur in our families, our jobs and sometimes life partnerships, can cause severe emotional upheaval.
Finding out what is causing your depression is the first step. Is is simply the result of changes to the level of estrogen in your body? Do you or anyone in your family have a history of depression or mental illness?
Some of the signs of depression are listlessness; loss of appetite or an increase in appetite every day; losing or gaining more than 5% of your body weight in a month without dieting; feelings of hopelessness; guilt for no reason, worthlessness; forgetfulness; short attention span; difficulty in making decisions; and suicidal thoughts or feelings. If you’re feeling suicidal, get help immediately. If the other symptoms persist over two weeks, go to a doctor and get some help.
Regular exercise, for half an hour at a time, is excellent for depression. There are also natural supplements like 5HTP and st johns wort. Counseling and support groups, even online forums, are also good options to explore. Understanding menopause and depression goes a long way in finding the skills to cope with what’s going on.