Menopause: how to avoid depression?
Published 19 Dec 2020 • Updated 21 Dec 2020 • By Candice Salomé
Menopause marks the end of a woman's fertility cycle. This natural process generates hormonal and physiological changes. Each woman lives this time differently, and the symptoms and feelings are varied. Depression is one of the symptoms women can feel during this time.
So what is menopause and what are the symptoms? What is the connection between menopause and depression? What role do sexual hormones play in the psyche? What are some solutions to live your menopause more serenely?
Let us explain everything to you!
Menopause is a time that all women go through, characterised by the end of ovulation and of menstruations. A stage called 'perimenopause' precedes menopause. Many symptoms appear: hot flashes, tiredness, sleep disorders, irritability...
What is menopause?
Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, with an overall average around 50 years old. It is the time when periods stop for good.
This physiological process occurs when ovaries halt their hormonal secretion (oestrogens and progesterone) and their egg production.
Menopause is preceded by pre-menopause or perimenopause during which ovarian activities are slowed down and feminine hormones decrease.
Menstrual cycles become irregular, they first extend before shortening, with more and more time between them.
Perimenopause lasts about 5 years before the complete halt of menstruations. Women in the perimenopause stage can experience several symptoms like hot flashes, tiredness, sleep disorders or irritability.
In some women, pre-menopause can also bring mental disorders such as concentration or memory disorders, anxiety or even depressive episodes.
What is the connection between menopause and depression?
Because of the symbols connected to it, menopause can represent a crisis period for many women. The halt in the secretion of sexual hormones (progesterone and oestrogens) plays a key role in mental health.
According to Dr Christian Jamin, gynaecologist and endocrinologist in Paris: 'Many women go through this period without any trouble, and menopause does not lead to any psychiatric or psychological disease in the medical sense. However, menopause can make women more fragile, and an underlying pathology can be revealed at that time'.
Two mechanisms can explain this specific breakdown:
- Hormones have a direct effect on well-being. Without these hormones, women often feel drained.
- Menopause can cause symptoms that can be a nuisance on a day-to-day basis, such as sleep disorders, that can lead to a drop in energy and a feeling of uneasiness.
This nascent vulnerability in women experiencing menopause is not steady.
It depends on several factors:
- The speed of the hormones drop. Troubles are more frequent in the event of a surgical menopause (removal of both ovaries) causing a sudden drop in hormones. On the other hand, when hormones decrease slowly, women can maintain a balance and not feel a thing.
- The underlying psyche plays a vital role. The effects of menopause can be imperceptible for a woman in great shape. They can however lead a sensitive person to feel uncomfortable.
What is the role of hormones in the psyche?
There are three types of sexual hormones:
- Oestrogens have a stimulating effect. When they are in excess, they can cause edginess and insomnia. When their secretion stops, women can feel a certain apathy. Women who lack oestrogens sometimes feel like crying around the time of their period. This phenomenon can also happen after menopause.
- Progesterones are relaxing hormones that help sleeping calmly and bring a feeling of well-being. The lack of progesterone does not occur during menopause but in the years leading to it (pre-menopause). During menopause, there will therefore be an excess of oestrogens causing edginess, anxiety and mood swings.
- Androgens are male hormones present in small quantities in women. They start decreasing from 30 years old. This can explain a drop in the libido and in the sexual desire.
Additionally, the drop in oestrogens will also lead to a decrease in the serotonin production, a neurotransmitter responsible for moods and emotions, explaining why 10 to 15% of women temporarily feel low.
What are the solutions to help women go through menopause more serenely?
In the event of a real depression, a true antidepressant therapy must be taken. It will allow fixing the deep biological disruptions affecting the brain.
Within weeks, antidepressants allow an increase in defective neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline), acting as chemical messengers between neurons.
Exercise helps balance mood swings. It reduces stress and anxiety but also pain and physical tiredness.
In addition, three recent studies have shown that omega 3 has a positive influence on mental health.
One of these studies, conducted by a team from Quebec, consisted in giving 1500 extra grams of Omega 3 to 60 women aged 40 to 66 and suffering from psychological distress.
After two months, no effects were seen on deep depressions. However, women suffering from mild depressions saw a clear decrease of their symptoms.
Omega 3 also allowed decreasing hot flashes.
It is therefore worth increasing the intake of Omega 3, using walnut, canola or soy oil instead of sunflower or peanut oil. Omega 3 also protects arteries!
Menopause is a natural process occurring in women around the age of 50, and causing many temporary symptoms, among which depression. But be reassured, it is a temporary depression in most cases, and you will find your balance again during the last stage of menopause in which a new hormonal balance is reached. If you cannot see any amelioration, seek help with a doctor.
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