Menopause marks the transition of a woman’s body leading to the end of her reproductive years. The period leading to menopause is called perimenopause, which lasts for 4–8 years. The menopausal age differs for each woman; usually, it occurs between 45 and 55 years.
The woman’s body goes through a lot of changes during perimenopause. Women start having irregular menstrual cycles and find it hard to get pregnant. Some women experience unpleasant symptoms, while others don’t. Some may also experience emotional and mental health changes.
If you think you’re experiencing menopause or your spouse or a family member is going through this period, this article will give you a better understanding of how menopause affects the mental health of older women.
The main thing you need to understand during the menopausal transition is that the woman’s body undergoes major hormonal changes. The production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone decreases. For this reason, some women may experience anxiety, irritability, and depression.
When a woman does not get her period for 12 consecutive months (without bleeding or spotting), she has reached menopause. However, some women may experience worse premenstrual syndrome (PMS) during the perimenopausal stage.
Below are the menopausal symptoms some women experience during their perimenopausal years. Bear in mind that some women may not experience unpleasant symptoms, while some may experience distressing symptoms.
- Hot flashes (episodes of flushing, sweating, palpitations, anxiety, and chills)
- Night sweats (heavy sweating that usually occurs at night, which affects sleep)
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood disturbance
- Memory problems
- Emotional distress
- Sexual problems
- Slowed metabolism and weight gain
- Dry skin and thinning hair
- Loss of breast fullness
The menopause transition phase may be agitating for some women regarding their emotional and mental state. For one, the chemicals in the brain change because of hormonal changes. This may cause some women to have mood swings, anxiety, or depression. However, ongoing and severe panic attacks, depression, and anxiety are unusual.
A woman may feel depressed or anxious due to the changes in estrogen and progesterone levels during menopause. Phases of feeling depressed are expected during menopause.
However, frequent and troubling panic attacks, depression, and anxiety are not normal symptoms of menopause. Some women may develop panic disorders, major depressive disorders, or mood disorders, which need mental health intervention.
The link between depression and menopause is brought about by the brain’s fluctuations in hormone levels and chemicals. Feeling depressed every day for two weeks or more may signify clinical depression.
The symptoms of depression may include changes in sleeping and eating patterns, feelings of sadness, loss of interest in doing activities enjoyed before, and inability to function properly with daily activities. Depression may not be the effect of perimenopause, so seek help from a therapist right away.
- History of or prior episodes of depression
- History of postpartum depression
- Stress at work or home
- Relationship problems
- Poor coping with the life changes
- Emotional symptoms like low self-esteem
- Poor body image perception
- Bad lifestyle choices like alcoholism, poor nutrition, or not exercising
- Existing mental conditions like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
Yes, menopause can lead to mood changes, anxiety, and feeling fatigued all the time. These changes are caused by lower hormone levels, which are directly linked to mood. Also, lack of sleep due to night sweats and hot flashes can lead to mood swings the next day.
It’s time to seek mental help when your depression or anxiety starts to affect your everyday life and relationships. See your doctor right away if the physical symptoms affect you. Here are some signs that you need to see a mental health professional:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Depressed mood every day for two weeks or more
- When you want to share what you’re going through but have no one to talk to
There are many ways to deal with menopause transition, such as natural remedies, changes in lifestyle, and other treatment options.
Menopause can be managed easily through your lifestyle. Here are some ways menopausal women can do every day:
- Eat the right foods. Eat many fruits, vegetables, protein-rich foods, and foods high in phytoestrogens (edamame, soy products like tofu, linseeds, sesame seeds, beans, and flaxseeds).
- Take supplements. Take vitamin D supplements, black cohosh, phytoestrogens, prebiotics, probiotics, primrose oil, and kava.
- Avoid trigger foods that worsen menopause symptoms. Limit alcohol and caffeine intake and avoid sugary, spicy, or processed foods.
- Drink 8–12 glasses of water every day.
- Maintain a healthy weight by exercising every day.
- Practice stress management techniques.
- Get enough sleep every night.
An OB-GYN can recommend hormone replacement therapy or bioidentical hormone replacement. They may prescribe progesterone creams or progestin or estrogen therapy to replace the hormones that are no longer produced sufficiently in the woman’s body because of menopause. Talk to your doctor to know more.
Mindfulness training helps address stressors and promote calmness to avoid depression and anxiety. It is a clinically proven technique you can do every day to not get caught up with your negative emotions. Mindfulness can also help women experiencing symptoms of mental illness manage anxiety and improve your overall well-being.
Can Therapy Help with My Mental Health During Menopause?
Yes, therapy can help with the mental health of menopausal women. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help explore and manage negative thoughts and emotions, which is why it is helpful with depression and anxiety. Research suggests that CBT can help with the management of hot flashes and night sweats.
If you need to talk to a professional to manage your mental wellness issues that may have been caused or worsened by menopause, book an appointment with Kentucky Counseling Center now. KCC also offers counseling for those who want to understand what their spouse or loved one is going through during menopause.