How Can You Avoid Depression in Menopause?
Depression in menopause is not a myth, nor is it a woman overreacting to situations or feelings. Numerous studies conducted over decades have demonstrated a connection between perimenopause (the transitional phase leading to menopause), menopause, and major depression (Clayton & Hinan, 2010). Harvard Women’s Health Watch (2018) reports that a woman’s depression risk “doubles or even quadruples” during this time. Depression can indeed be a very real part of this process, but it isn’t inevitable. You can reduce the symptoms or avoid depression in menopause altogether. Keep reading to equip yourself to do just that.
Avoid Depression in Menopause by Knowing Symptoms to Watch for
Perimenopause and menopause involve many big changes in the brain and body. Your system is shifting away from a focus on creating and growing new life to a focus on nurturing the lives that already exist—yours and your loved ones’. That’s a significant transformation and one that involves internal shifts.
Specific depression symptoms to watch for include somatic, physiological, and psychological and include:
- Feelings of sadness
- Aches and pains throughout the body
- Muscle tension
- Digestive discomfort and trouble
- Difficulty sleeping, often because of night sweats
- Decreased sex drive
- Lack of motivation or even mild interest in something you used to enjoy
- Difficulty concentrating
Too often, women suffer these symptoms for years assuming they’re just part of “the change” and nothing can be done. If you start to experience symptoms and find that they’re interfering in your ability to live your life, checking in with your doctor could help you avoid major depression in menopause before it sets in.
Knowing some of the risks and reasons for depression is another way to manage your menopausal mood changes.
Why Depression Can Be a Part of Menopause
Knowing the reasons for depression during your time of transition helps you evaluate your risk. This knowledge is personal power. You can address the reasons and reduce your likelihood of depression.
Among the reasons a woman’s depression risk increases during menopause:
Hormonal fluctuations. Hormone levels change as women enter menopause. A drop in estrogen, in particular, is responsible for depression symptoms. Estrogen affects the functioning of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins, which play a role in mood and emotions. When estrogen drops, these important neurochemicals are affected and can contribute to depression.
Life changes and other stressors. Hormones aside, the age during which perimenopause and menopause occur (timing is different for each woman, but the process often occurs in the 40s and 50s is a time of significant life changes. Changing relationships, children leaving home, new roles, career shifts, caring for aging parents, and thoughts of one’s own aging are common at this time. Even when they are positive, adjustments can be difficult. Add the hormonal fluctuations to the mix, and depression can result.
Lifestyle factors. An unhealthy lifestyle is a factor in depression. Poor nutrition, little exercise, alcohol or other substance use, smoking, and a lack of activities that bring meaning to life, combined with life changes, stress, and hormonal fluctuations can be a perfect storm for major depression to form.
Other risk factors. Studies have found that previous bouts of depression, a history of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and Caucasian ethnicity all increase a woman’s chances of major depression during menopause.
While some of these factors are beyond your control, others are things that you can take action to improve. The following tips can help you.
Easing or Avoiding Depression in Menopause
Several different treatment options can help you deal with, and even avoid, depression through menopause:
- Hormone therapy (also called hormone replacement therapy or estrogen replacement therapy)
- Antidepressant medication
- Talk therapy
- Lifestyle changes
Hormone therapy is a helpful option for many women. Taking estrogen pills can ease many menopause symptoms. Estrogen replacement alone isn’t enough to treat depression, but it can ease the symptoms when they occur. It hasn’t been found to be effective in preventing the onset of depression.
Antidepressants can help with depression during this period of life transition. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically the type of antidepressant that works best for menopause-related depression.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in helping you avoid depression or, if you are already experiencing depressive symptoms, minimize them. Physical movement is crucial. Exercising daily in a way that is fun for you leads to physical changes in the brain that can trump hormonal changes. Healthy eating is important for emotional health as well. Manage stress by balancing responsibilities with enjoyable hobbies and activities, and become involved in organizations, clubs, or classes to meet people, form positive relationships, and embrace your new stage of life.
A healthy perspective helps, too. Knowing that menopause is a normal phase of life that can bring mood changes can help you separate yourself from the downs of menopause. You can’t avoid menopause, but you can minimize or avoid depression during menopause.
Peterson, T. (2020, May 4). How Can You Avoid Depression in Menopause?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/women/how-can-you-avoid-depression-in-menopause