Is there a link between depression and menopause?

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.

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].

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.