Depression and menopause have a variety of common symptoms, which can make differentiating between them challenging. But ‘menopause depression’, refers to the common and very challenging symptom of depression that women may experience as a result of the hormone imbalances associated with menopause.
Studies have shown that the likelihood of women experiencing depressed moods during menopause is anywhere from 30% to 3 times as likely as pre-menopausal women. Those women with a history of depression are nearly five times more likely to receive a diagnosis of major depression during menopause. Women who have no previous history of depression are also two to four times more likely to report feeling depressed when compared with pre-menopausal women.
These statistics tell us there is a link between depression and menopause. In this article, we summarise the appearance of depression during menopause, some key underlying causes and a suggested range of treatments to help you better understand this symptom and work towards regaining a better quality of life.
What Is Depression and What are the Causes?
Depression is a broad term that encompasses a range of severity from mild temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression. The most severe form is termed ‘clinical depression’ but can also be called major depression or major depressive disorder.
Depression is a complex condition, with expert opinions varying greatly on the different types and manifestations of depression—some theorise there may be as many as six different forms of depression.
Hormones and hormonal changes can play a crucial role in our emotional state, with hormonal changes able to cause significant emotional changes and vice versa. Oestrogens are central in coordinating brain development and maintaining brain activity, and cyclic fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone increase stress responses—increasing susceptibility to depression and anxiety.
The hormonal fluctuations women experience throughout their lives due to their menstrual cycle become increasingly erratic during the peri-menopausal period. As menopause progresses, women experience progressively longer periods of oestrogen withdrawal—it is these hormonal changes which are believed to increase the risk for mood disorders in some women.
General Symptoms of Depression
Menopause depression symptoms often vary between individuals and can range from mild to severe and from day-to-day. Still, it’s crucial to pay attention to these symptoms and seek help if you believe you’re suffering from depression.
Symptoms of menopause depression can often include those symptoms typical to menopause, making it even more challenging to disentangle the two. Symptoms include;
- Weight gain
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in normal activities
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, remembering things and making decisions
Helping someone with depression
Recognising the symptoms of depression in others is helpful, but it can be difficult to support them. Simple things can become overwhelming when someone is suffering from depression.
The first step is recognising the signs of depression which can include:
- Negative moods
- Loss of interest in their favourite activities
- Changes in weight/appetite
To help a loved one with depression, you must first understand they have an illness, and it can't be easily rectified. Attempting to have them see a doctor or another health professional can help to give them a diagnosis which can then lead to treatment. Offer to help make an appointment, or even take them to it.
In many cases, they may not want to seek help. If this is the case, gently talking to them about your concerns, or providing information may be a softer approach.
Treatment for Menopause Depression
Menopause depression treatment comes in a range of forms designed to alleviate your suffering and help you regain a better quality of life. Because hormones play a large role in mood and thus in instances of menopause depression, pharmacological solutions may provide the best option for dealing with your depression.
Pharmacological approaches require consultation and discussion with your doctor, and a prescription for the treatment. Possible treatments include;
- Hormone therapy, which studies have indicated may prevent the onset of depression symptoms during menopause
- Antidepressant medications
- Psychological counselling
However, because depression can also occur due to a range of dietary and lifestyle factors, other possible depression remedies are within your control. It’s worthwhile examining these options and giving them a try before resorting to other treatment forms. These other menopause depression symptom cures include;
- Reduce poor-quality dietary habits. Some studies have indicated a relationship between depression and diet. These studies indicate that people who eat a poor-quality diet—one high in sweet desserts, fried food, refined cereals, processed meat, and high-fat dairy products—are more likely to report symptoms of depression.
- Increase fruit, vegetable and fish intake. People who eat a diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, and regularly eat fish, are less likely to report being depressed.
- Spend Time Outside. Some studies have suggested that increased sun exposure can help elevate a person’s Vitamin D levels and may help improve their mood.
- Find an exercise regimen. Exercising is known to provide the endorphins that help us feel good, and is a way of improving general physical and mental health.
The Australian Menopause Centre Can Help
If you’re feeling depressed or anxious and fear you may have menopause depression, don’t wait for reaching out for help. Talking to qualified medical practitioners can support you through the struggles of menopause by providing the help you need to improve your quality of life. Don’t suffer in silence, ask for help.