Is there a link between depression and menopause?

By: Jennifer Sellers

If your depression is leading you to have thoughts of suicide, call a mental health professional right away to get help.
If your depression is leading you to have thoughts of suicide, call a mental health professional right away to get help.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Menopause is a phase in a woman's life that's marked by irregularities. Oscillations in sleep, blood circulation, sex drive and metabolism can be expected. However, symptoms like insomnia, hot flashes, vaginal dryness and weight gain aren't the only ones to look out for.

One change that gets less attention is one of psychological health: depression. Yet it's very common. In fact, menopausal women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than the general population. This is also the time of life when a woman is most likely to commit suicide [source: Jones]. And she doesn't even have to have a personal history of depression to be vulnerable to it during menopause [source: Boyles].

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Depression in menopause is likely caused by shifting hormone levels. Both a reduction in estrogen and a rise in testosterone -- which is typically known as the male sex hormone, but is also present in females at lower levels -- can increase a woman's depression risk. (While increased testosterone may increase the risk of depression in women going through menopause, it is lowered testosterone that can lead to depression in men who are going through an equivalent change in life) [source: Jones].

It's believed that these rapid fluctuations -- particularly in key sex hormones -- influence neurotransmitters in the brain [source: Cleveland Clinic]. Faulty neurotransmitters are what many of today's medical scientists think cause depression.

Because hormonal fluctuations are at their highest during perimenopause (the time when a woman's body is transitioning into the menopausal phase), that's when depression is most likely to rear its ugly head. However, an abrupt hormonal shift -- such as a hysterectomy in which the ovaries are removed -- can also pose a mental health threat.

There are other factors that can increase a menopausal woman's risk of depression. A disrupted sleep schedule, which is common during menopause, can increase susceptibility. A history of sensitivity to hormonal changes -- such as severe PMS -- increases risk. Smoking also seems to put a woman in greater jeopardy of developing menopausal depression. And physicians have noticed that women with a greater number of physical menopausal symptoms are more likely to experience depression.

Learn more about menopausal depression on the next page.

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Recognizing and Treating Menopausal Depression

When there are so many changes going on in your body, it's hard to imagine yet another symptom to deal with. Fortunately, depression is usually pretty easy to identify and there are many options for treatment. When it shows up paired with menopause, it doesn't differ a lot from other incarnations of the mental health disorder.

So, with that being said, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you look out for the following symptoms:

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  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of joy or pleasure
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Chronic pain with no obvious cause
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Frequent crying
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Of course, changes in appetite, sleep and sex drive can also be symptoms of menopause. While such indicators shouldn't be ignored, they should especially be brought to the attention of a doctor if you're also experiencing some of the mood-oriented symptoms of depression, like loss of pleasure or excessive crying.

If you're diagnosed with depression, there are a number of treatment options available. For starters, correcting hormonal imbalances with hormone therapy may help ease your depression. At the very least, it can help with other symptoms, such as lack of sleep, that may be contributing to your depression.

Beyond that, traditional depression treatments should be effective. These can include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are prescription drugs that target neurotransmitters in the brain; dietary and fitness changes; and psychotherapy.

If your depression is leading you to have thoughts of suicide, call a mental health professional right away to get help.

Learn more about depression and women's health on the next page.

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Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Boyles, Salynn. "Nearing Menopause? Depression a Risk." WebMD. April 2, 2006. (March 12, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/menopause/news/20060403/nearing-menopause-depression-risk
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Menopause and Depression." May 13, 2010. (March 12, 2012) http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic-what-is-perimenopause-menopause-postmenopause/hic-emotional-aspects-of-menopause
  • Jones, Jessica Ward. "High Testosterone May Worsen Depression During Menopause." PsychCentral. June 30, 2010. (March 12, 2012) http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/06/25/high-testosterone-may-worsen-depression-during-menopause/14957.html
  • Mayo Clinic. "Depression in Women -- Perimenopause and Menopause." Sept. 1, 2010. (March 12, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/MH00035/NSECTIONGROUP=2
  • Mayo Clinic. "Depression (major depression)." Feb. 10, 2012. (March 12, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175/DSECTION=symptoms
  • Mayo Clinic. "Menopause." July 23, 2011. (March 12, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/menopause/DS00119