One of the significant milestones women will go through in their lifetimes is menopause. Menopause marks the end of a woman’s ability to conceive a child, and with that, the stopping of her menstrual cycle once menopause is complete. The majority of women experience menopause between the ages of forty-five and sixty, though the duration is different for every woman.
This natural process every woman experiences has some challenges though—besides numerous physical symptoms, menopause often affects a woman’s mental health and can negatively impact her daily life. Learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatments women endure when it comes to menopause, and the impact it can have on their mental health.
How Can Menopause Affect Mental Health?
Estrogen (the hormone responsible for sexual and reproductive development in women) is the main culprit when it comes to connecting menopause to mental health. Sufficient levels of estrogen must be present in the brain to keep a patient mentally stable, and the hormone actively protects the brain’s neurons against degeneration, while enhancing cognitive function and memory. Many of the symptoms of menopause, especially mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, are associated with serotonin dysfunction, which, according to research, serotonin and estrogen are indistinguishably connected.
During menopause and perimenopause, the stage that prepares the body for menopause, the level of estrogen within a woman’s body drops significantly, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and can be especially damaging to a woman’s self-esteem. The reason for these emotional issues is not always apparent, as research shows menopausal symptoms can affect mood and well-being. To learn more about preparing for menopause, check out this informative article: 10 Things Every Woman Should Prepare For Menopause
Symptoms Of Menopause
There are numerous physical and mental symptoms associated with menopause. Some of the physical symptoms women may experience include hot flashes, sleep problems, sweating profusely at night, fatigue, frequent urination, weight gain and a decrease in metabolism, irregular periods, and dryness in the nether region. Emotional symptoms include mood swings, irritability, tearfulness, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the development of or an increase in a variety of phobias, feelings of despair leading up to menopause, as well as depression and anxiety. Another common physical and mental symptom is a decrease in sexual desire, which can also damage a woman’s self-esteem. All of these symptoms vary from woman to woman, as each body is unique and reacts differently when going through this natural process.
Dealing With Depression
As mentioned, depression is the most predominant mental health issue a menopausal woman can suffer from during this dramatic life change. Research shows women are twice as likely to become depressed compared to men, which can greatly intensify during the perimenopause and menopause phases. Women are also likely to develop anxiety and a variety of phobias during this period. Physical symptoms, such as sleep problems and constant disruption in sleep patterns can put a patient at risk of developing depression. Researchers and doctors alike blame the increased risk of depression on the decrease of estrogen within the body that occurs years before and during menopause.
Other attributes that can increase a woman’s risk for depression include having depression before menopause (which intensifies it), negative feelings towards aging and not being able to bear children, smoking and alcohol consumption, and increased stress. Other symptoms include experiencing severe (physical) menopausal symptoms, having low self-esteem, not exercising regularly, lapses in memory, decreased energy, irritability, angry outbursts, and not having the social support needed during this time.
Similar to depression, anxiety is another mental health issue that can negatively impact a woman during menopause, and often has the most difficult symptoms to cope with. Aside from the symptoms of depression, symptoms of anxiety may also include nervousness, panic attacks, feelings of unworthiness and guilt, low self-esteem, restlessness, agitation, and difficulty managing daily life. Many women who experience anxiety feel unable to cope with situations that were never an issue before, such as social anxiety and feeling overwhelmed by others. This can be terribly frightening and undermine a woman’s confidence, and may even make her feel like she is going crazy.
Eight percent of women suffer from agoraphobia, a type of anxiety disorder in which the patient fears and avoids places or situations which can cause them to panic and make them feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. Seventy percent of those who experience social anxiety are women, and this form of anxiety can intensify during menopause. Anxiety is a buildup of pressure in the mind, and often the only way to alleviate this stress is to talk about it with a professional or trusted individual.
Treatments To Ease Depression & Anxiety
Luckily, there are multiple treatments and lifestyle changes a woman can make to help ease her physical and mental symptoms due to menopause. First and foremost, she should consult a doctor if any of these symptoms become apparent and to receive a proper diagnosis of depression, anxiety, PTSD, phobias, or any other mental health problems. Depression and anxiety during menopause are treated in similar ways as they are treated at any other time in life. A doctor can prescribe medications, therapy, lifestyle changes, or a combination of any of these options.
Next, let’s take a look at some treatment options available to menopausal women.
Lifestyle Changes & Medical Intervention
Lifestyle changes for natural relief for a patient include getting adequate sleep and establishing a regular bedtime routine, getting more active and regularly exercising, trying relaxation and stress-reducing activities such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, or a massage. Other changes include quitting smoking and drinking alcohol and seeking social support groups who can provide compassion and understanding during this phase of life. Medical treatments for depression and anxiety include a low-dose estrogen replacement therapy (which can also help with a decreased libido), antidepressant drug therapy, and seeking counsel from a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Always consult a doctor before beginning any medications or making any drastic lifestyle changes to ensure these effective treatments are right for you. Remember ladies, you are not your menopause, and your menopause is not you. The physical and mental symptoms you are experiencing will get better with time!