In the United States, who is most likely to have depression? Women between ages 40 and 59, that’s who, according to a 2014 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If hot flashes and joint pain weren’t enough, menopause and perimenopause—the unpleasant time before you permanently “pause”—can mess with your mind. Why this is so is a matter of debate.
Whatever is happening in your body, you might be depressed and not even fully realize it. You could have aches and pains that might be part of hormonal madness–or not. You might feel anxious or irritable, exhausted all the time or losing interest in the things that once brought you joy. In short, off your game.
So, a few things you should know about the menopause transition and depression:
#1. Women of all ages are more likely than men to be depressed. One in eight women experience depression in their lifetimes, regardless of race or ethnic background—and at twice the rate of men.
#2. Perimenopause is a danger zone. A probable cause, according to some studies, may be your body’s hormonal rollercoaster as it tries to decide whether it wants to keep menstruating or give it up already. Make a decision, body!
#3. The two years post-menopause are also risky. Some studies suggest a correlation between the decline of estrogen in the years immediately following your last period and an uptick in depression risk.
#4. Perimenopause, thyroid disorders and depression symptoms sometimes coincide. Some symptoms of perimenopause, depression and thyroid disorders are similar, including irregular periods, mood swings, joint pain and loss of concentration. Hyperthyroidism—overactive thyroid—and trigger early menopause, too.
#5. A history of depression, especially postpartum depression or serious PMS, is another red flag. If you’ve ever experienced depression, whether postpartum, in PMS, or on its own, you’re at greater risk.
#6. HELP IS AT HAND. You don’t have to feel physically or emotionally miserable. Get regular exercise and take care of yourself. Talk to your doctor about how you feel. Get a thyroid test. Consider seeing a psychotherapist or psychiatrist (who can prescribe antidepressants, if that is what you need). Some women find that hormone replacement therapy can ease hot flashes and the mental funk, too (but ask your doctor about risks).
If you want to help the world learn more about the causes and treatment of midlife and perimenopausal depression, you can sign up for a research study. The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health is undertaking several relevant studies and is in need of participants who are feeling mentally crappy and going through menopause. Just call 301-496-9576 to find out how you can participate.
And the news isn’t all bad. Among women and men alike, depression rates declined dramatically after the age of 60 to 5.4 percent. So, hang in there! You might just feel better with time. And, of course, treatment helps. Dames, we have to take care of ourselves.