Menopause and depression are generally two separate conditions that have more in common than you might think. This period in a woman’s life, going from a reduction in menstrual periods to when menstruation stops entirely, was found to predispose them to be twice as likely to suffer from the symptoms of depression compared to men, according to researchers from Harvard University.
Additionally, women far into their post-menopausal years with a past history of depression or who have suffered from server premenstrual syndrome (PMS) appear to be at significantly higher risk for developing symptoms of depression as well.
Causes of menopausal and postmenopausal depression
Menopause occurs as a result of hormonal changes in a woman’s body, particularly a decline in estrogen and progestogen. These hormones previously regulated the menstrual cycle but begin to decline during the menopausal age range. Other scenarios can induce menopausal-like symptoms, such as having a hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and primary ovarian insufficiency. This hormonal change can present with a whole host of varying side effects including hot flashes, mood swings, and depression.
Estrogen levels may continue to decline after menopause. It is believed that this hormone also helps to block the breakdown of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. Estrogen is also known for affecting endorphin release, a group of chemicals associated with stress management and emotions.
Psychological factors may also play a role, as feelings of no longer being fertile, anxiety over what will happen upon retirement or even the sadness that comes with children leaving home to begin their own lives can take an emotional toll. Relationships may also suffer as menopausal women typically experience a decreased libido due to factors like vaginal dryness impacting sex life.
The physical effects that menopause put on women will also play a part. Hot flashes, one of the most common side effects of menopause, is known for increasing a women’s risk of developing insomnia. It was reported that up to 30 percent of postmenopausal women only get a few nights of sleep per month, with insomnia being associated with an up to three-times greater incidence of depression.
How to cope with menopausal and post-menopausal depression
While the symptoms of menopause cannot be completely mitigated, addressing symptoms right away is the best way to ensure a speedy resolution. The symptoms of depression should never be ignored, as if left untreated, they could get worse. The following are some recommendations that can help you identify depressive symptoms so you can rectify them right away or seek help if needed.
- Know what to look for: Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities is a sign of clinical depression. While it is normal to feel blue or be irritable once in a while, not enjoying something that typically brings you joy is a major red flag. In addition to this, symptoms of little or no energy, decreased concentration, or having trouble sleeping are the classic signs of depression and should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
- Get help: If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is highly recommended to see a doctor right away. Some underlying problems, such as thyroid disease, may cause similar symptoms to depression, which will only be discovered by visiting your doctor. If clinical depression is found to be the case, there are several proven prescription medications that can help you feel better, as well as other forms of treatment including counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Take care of yourself: Adhering to a healthy diet and getting regular exercise for about 30 minutes a day can help ease the symptoms of depression, according to a study conducted by Duke University researchers. However, in this study, about eight percent had their depression return. Staying connected with friends and family has also been shown to decrease the chances of developing depression.
- Stay positive: Knowing that menopause will come with all these unwanted side effects will allow you not to become blindsided when they do. By increasing your knowledge about any given situation, you can help reduce anxiety and prepare yourself better for handling whatever it may throw your way.
Natural remedies for menopausal and post-menopausal depression
- St. John’s wort: A commonly used herbal remedy for depression that helps to regulate the production neurotransmitters in the brain: serotonin and dopamine. These are the two primarily responsible for feelings of joy and relaxation. However, the use of St. John’s wort may interfere with the effectiveness of other medications currently used and should be discussed first with your doctor before implementing.
- Gotu kola: Also known as Centella Asiatica, this medicinal herb has been used for centuries and originates from countries in Asia and Australasia. Its main benefit is improving mental states as well as improving concentration. It is often used to alleviate the symptoms of depression during menopause.
- Rosemary: A popular herb that can be added to a number of dishes, rosemary is also known for improving general well-being and can possible help mild or moderate depression.
- Schisandra: Commonly used in tea, schisandra is used to help those suffering from depression as it is thought to aid mental strength and reduce irritability.
- Blood sugar balance: Having uncontrolled fluctuations in blood sugar levels has been known to cause anxiety, low moods, crying spells, and difficulty sleeping. By adhering to proper meal times and eating a healthy diet rich in protein, whole grain, and plenty of vegetables, you can help stabilize blood sugar levels and support stable moods.
- Good sleep habits: It is recommended to avoid bright screens at least 30 minutes before going to bed. This includes TVs, computers, and your cells phone. Modern screens today give off “blue light,” which can trick the brain into thinking your eyes are seeing sunlight when it might be pitch dark outside. This effects your natural circadian rhythm and your melatonin levels may become unbalanced, causing you to have trouble falling asleep.
Additional tips for good sleep habits include taking an evening bath, having a nice cup of caffeine-free tea, or even having a light snack that is high in protein to keep you from suffering from hunger pangs during the night.