Depression and Menopause

Depression can be brought on by numerous events in one's life. Women are at an increased risk for  depression during  menopause and up to two years after. I have seen this quite a bit of post menopausal depression in my practice. This situation is another one of the causes of mental illness due to the change in hormones in a woman’s body. I have posted several articles on this website dealing with the causes of depression and other mental illnesses and as a first line of evaluation; I look for an underlying physical condition that might be the cause of the mental illness. Often it is these hormonal changes including the occasional thyroid conditions that can cause depression as well as our diets, there are numerous reasons why the chemistry or DNA in our bodies can change at any point in time that would leave us more susceptible to depression or another mental illness. Often an auto accident and trauma to the head will cause mood disorders, things that we seldom consider will trigger these neurological imbalances.

The study in question did not conclude or determine what exactly was causing the depression, however, when the body goes through such radical changes as menopause; however, it would be expected to see acute depression due to the imbalance of hormones. We have come to understand that exercise and diet are very important in producing endorphins that maintain good mental hygiene, so, depression occurring or being triggered by a change in the hormones is not too surprising. For example, estrogen acts as a hormonal antidepressant and with menopause the estrogen levels in a woman’s body significantly decline.

Menopause is known for causing mood swings (not to be confused with bipolar disorder).  If you don't believe this, ask any male - married for 25+ years (chuckles). A 10 year study suggests that women are at risk for major depression both during and after menopause. The study included 221 women aged 42 to 52 who were pre-menopausal at the beginning of the study. Extensive screening was conducted to rule out any biases of pre-existing or current depressive conditions in the women so the study could be as objective as possible. It turned out that these women were at a much greater risk during menopause and also within two years after the began menopause. Surprisingly the study revealed that the risk was much greater for the women during the post menopausal periods instead of the pre menopausal periods. Again the researchers were hesitant to attribute the major depression to the change on the reproductive hormones but did indicate the possibility of a correlation. From a clinical point of view, with this knowledge of the increased risk, women entering this period of life can begin to take life-style changes to reduce the risk such as increasing their exercise program, cutting down on the trans-fats in their diets, avoiding stressful situations when possible, and alerting their practitioner to any signs of depression. This is especially important since we know that the earlier we intervene with antidepressant medications, the less debilitating the depression will be with a better prognosis and the newer antidepressants have a very high rate of effectiveness approaching 70% for the first medication tried.

Also, even though the estrogen levels are quite low in menopausal woman when the hormone levels are checked, many are not wanting, and reasonably so I might add, to introduce synthetic or even more natural hormones into their bodies with the available recent information that has shown an increased risk of certain cancers in woman that use these hormones when menopausal.

This study was in an article in the Psychiatric News May 20, 2011. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services. I encourage you to never take depression lightly, especially since we know that left untreated, it can lead to nerve or brain damage. Unfortunately the stigmatization of mental illness typically creates a reluctance to seek treatment for more than half of those suffering with the horrific symptoms of mental illness. We are doing our best to educate the public with regards to the physiological causes of mental illness and to look at it for what it is - another disease of the body. In this case the brain and its ability to modulate the neuro transmitters.

this article is for informative purposes and not to be used to treat any mental health issue