Many women find themselves with depression and menopause, and they wonder why. There are both physiological and sociological/psychological reasons for depression, and some are more prevalent during the menopausal transition. But first, let's define what depression is.
Depression is an alteration in brain chemistry that lasts more than two weeks. If you are sad or depressed for less than two weeks, it is not considered depression by medical definition. However, in this article we will also address depression that occurs for a few hours or days. I am not a doctor and I cannot diagnose or treat any disease. My purpose here is to share information with you so that you can make informed decisions about your health.
Your brain chemistry fluctuates normally and can be altered by illness, stress, frustration or grief, and more. Depression happens when this alteration in chemistry continues past two weeks and interferes with your life. Most depression is self-limiting; that is, it will go away on its own. However, it may take months or years and if one becomes suicidal, there is the possibility of death from the depression.
If you are wondering whether its all worth it or what the point of getting help is, then you need help immediately. Call your doctor. If you can't do that call a crisis line. There are suicide hot lines where you can call and talk to someone about depression and menopause (just google suicide hot line). It's completely free and anonymous. Please, don't hesitate. You are worth it. Things can change.
Symptoms of menopause depression include changes in sleep, changes in weight and appetite, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, reduction of pleasure, fatigue, lack of concentration, overwhelming sadness or grief, hopelessness. Some of these symptoms are also related to pre menopause and menopause symptoms, so it's best to get hormones tested to be sure. Specifically, sleeplessness, brain confusion, weight gain, and fatigue can be menopausal symptoms.
Depression can be caused by long-term high stress. Transitioning through menopause can be highly stressful and contribute to depression and menopause. Menopause depression can also be caused by fluctuating hormones or lack of sleep (which can cause fatigue, brain fog and more intense emotions). Low thyroid can also cause many of these symptoms, and becomes more prevalent at menopause, so it is important to make sure your thyroid is functioning properly. To find out more about thyroid and other hormones that become low or unbalanced, see Hormone Imbalance
Sociologically and psychologically speaking, women have a multitude of issues that could reasonably cause depression and menopause. These may include children leaving home, divorce, aging, and the standing that older women have in western society, which is invisible and unimportant. Children growing up and leaving home, and you getting older will happen whether you want them to or not.
If you are not dealing well with these issues (accepting the reality of the situation, recognizing and acknowledging your feelings about it, making changes for your new situation), they could cause depression and menopause. Grief, sadness and anger may be underlying depression and menopause. If you left the work force to raise your children, returning to work can be stressful as well as depressing. I was unfortunate enough to need a divorce while still at home with my son, and years later I am still behind in my income. I don't regret my decision, but being economically punished for nurturing children is depressing.
When I read about the symptoms of depression, I get concerned. I can't help but think nutrition, nutrition, nutrition.
I recently spoke with someone who was diagnosed with depression. He couldn't get out of bed on weekends. His holistic doctor wanted to give him nutritional supplements. He chose drugs instead, because he wanted to deal with it right away. Now don't get me wrong, I know exactly what that feels like. I have to take thyroid medication every day, and I hated the thought of that at first. But I would no more go without it than...because I couldn't function. I guess the difference is I trust herbs and diet more because I've had the experience of seeing them work miracles. They're not really miracles, it's just that we've lost the wisdom we once had for diet and herbal medicine.
I also think of my own experiences with depression, and what I have learned. I was once diagnosed by my therapist with “depressed mood”. This is when I went into counseling to address issues that came from growing up in a dysfunctional family – first with a compulsive gambler, then an alcoholic. I suppose I was depressed, but at that time I didn't really know it. After I learned to identify certain feelings, and began experiencing anger, I had a better idea about when I was or was not depressed.
But now, the symptoms:
change in sleep patterns
loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
These symptoms could be just from handling life experiences. Let me tell you, when I left my ex-husband, who was emotionally abusive and I went into pre-menopause at the same time, while I was trying to get back in the work force after being out of it for 8 years, AND had a thyroid condition that was being under-treated, I certainly had most if not all of those symptoms. But I never approached them from the point of view of having depression and menopause. I had real physiological and life problems that I needed to resolve, and as I resolved each problem, my symptoms went away.
Now, this discussion is not for those of you who cannot, for whatever reason, resolve your issues, or maybe you don't even know what they are. I'm speaking from having 8 years of individual counseling, along with 3 intensive years in different twelve-step programs and years and years of other personal development work. So please, do not take this information, or your condition, lightly.
I only say this for those of you who might be feeling like you want another perspective on your situation, or you don't want to take antidepressants just because you're feeling a bit out of sorts and your doc has nothing else to suggest. When I was having serious thyroid issues my doc was going through the standard protocol of tests for my symptoms, which were severe shortness of breath. He tested me for heart failure, lung cancer, asthma and COPD, and a few others I can't remember.
Meanwhile I intuitively knew it wasn't heart or lung related and was pursuing my own research on the internet. At one point he suggested the next step was looking for sleep apnea. He said if that wasn't it he was going for depression. In my mind (and I've read about this somewhere, although I can't remember where), that is the default diagnosis, when they're out of other things to try. Especially for middle-aged women.
Well, why WOULDN'T we be depressed??? We live in a culture that worships youth and where older women are completely invisible. Our children are growing up or gone, maybe our whole identity has been wrapped up in being a mother, and now.....well, now what? It's a huge question. One I've been asking myself for a couple of years. There are no easy answers to that question. And if you're like me, having only one child, feeling like it's going to be over way too fast, I'd say there's something wrong with you if you DON'T feel depressed. You don't have to buy into the idea that you should always be feeling great, just because the pharmaceutical companies have found something to sell you.
You need to find the path that's right for you. I found counseling to be a huge help, and I'm sure my life would not have turned out anything like it did if I hadn't done that work. But I was very lucky to find a highly effective counselor right away, and it was during a time when I had insurance that covered unlimited therapy. I would not have those same options today. I would never discourage someone from taking drugs for their problem if that is what's right for them. You are the only person who can answer that question. My offering here is to let you know you may have other choices, what they are, and what it's like to choose them.
Mental health counselors can help with depression and menopause. They can help you identify and resolve problems and your feelings about those problems. There are different types:
A psychiatrist is an M.D. With four additional years of training in mental health issues. A psychiatrist can prescribe medications.
A psychologist usually has a doctorate degree and cannot prescribe medications, except in a couple of states.
A marriage and family counselor (MFT) or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) can conduct psychotherapy as well. They generally have masters level degrees, along with whatever licensing requirements the individual states require. They do not prescribe drugs.
Check with your state's licensing laws to get more specific information. Any of the counselors mentioned above can help you with depression and menopause. If you cannot afford counseling, there are crisis lines and support groups that may help. You can also use a pastoral counselor, someone with degrees in both theology and counseling.
Now that I've given you my some of my life story and personal philosophy, please listen to this: depression is not something to take lightly. I have had people I know take their lives within the last year, and another person close to me considered it. You must TAKE SOME ACTION. Get support from friends or family, if you cannot go there, call a hot line. They are free, anonymous, and they can help you. Counseling can be very helpful with depression. If you feel strongly about not taking anti-depressants, then do your homework and find an alternative practitioner, preferably someone also trained as an MD or equivalent (licensed naturopath, Doctor of Oriental Medicine) to help you determine what herbs, supplements and dietary changes you can make to support yourself. Do not try to do this alone.
Diet and Depression
Diet is very important to good moods. Healthy carbohydrates and healthy fats (more Omega 3s, less Omega 6s) are critical in supporting good moods. By healthy carbohydrates I mean fresh or home-cooked vegetables, fruits, and whole grains such as brown rice, millet, quinoa, etc. I do not mean bread, pasta, cereal, muffins or bagels. Those are refined carbohydrates.
Vitamins and minerals are also important. If you think you are getting enough nutrients in your diet, or wonder if you are, you can enter your food diary at Spark People and find out. The site is free, and I use it to determine how healthy my diet really is in terms of nutrient density.
There are also herbs and other supplements that can support good moods, such as St. John's Wort, SAMe, 5HTP and others. Aromatherapy and sunlight can help. Click the link above to find out more about depression vitamins, supplements and herbs.
You can also learn about other natural treatments for depression and menopause, such as exercise, yoga, acupuncture, music, and flower essences.
Anything that helps you relax, enjoy the moment, and brings beauty into your life will help. Knowing that you matter, and that what you do matters, will help tremendously with depression and menopause.
You may also visit Fish Oil and Depression
Depression and menopause often go together, but there are many approaches that may help.