You’re not just sad. This is worse than that. It’s like someone’s sucked the colour out of life.
The things you used to enjoy don’t give you pleasure anymore. Getting up in the morning feels like a battle. The world feels dark. And you’ve felt like this a while now – a few weeks or maybe even months.
There’s no denying the fact that the change can be both an emotional and physical rollercoaster. But what causes menopause-related depression?
Dealing with tricksy symptoms is thought to be one of the reasons women may become depressed during this time of their lives. If you’re coping with disrupted sleep, hot flushes, and anxiety just to name a few, it’s easy to see how you might slip into a very low mood.
Some medical professionals believe the risk of depression increases as we transition into the perimenopause, because our hormones are fluctuating erratically.
There is also some evidence that depression is linked to the menopause transition because of fluctuating and decreasing hormone levels. It can affect women at any stage of the menopause. but the good news is that, for some, symptoms can improve again with time after the menopause.
You may also be more prone to depression during your menopausal journey if you've experienced it at other times in your life.
Want to know how to fight depression in menopause? Although it may seem impossible right now, you can and will feel better if you do something about it. Here are some practical steps you can take.
Before you read on, if you’re in the UK and need someone to talk to right away, you can call the Samaritans 24/7, 365 days a year on 116 123 for a confidential, judgement-free conversation.
SPEAK TO YOUR DOCTOR
If you’re concerned about your mental health or think you may have depression, we recommend you pay a visit to your GP.
It can be hard to start the conversation when you’re in the room, so take in a little list of the thoughts and feelings you’ve been experiencing and how they’re affecting your everyday life.
And don’t worry if you just cry at them – you won’t be the first to do so, and you certainly won’t be the last. Verbalising these emotions can be massively overwhelming but also hugely liberating, so don’t be surprised if the waterworks flood out.
Your doctor should discuss a treatment plan with you and may suggest things like online self-help, group support, counselling, or medication in the form of HRT, or an antidepressant if HRT isn’t right for you.
OPEN UP TO THOSE YOU LOVE
It’s easy when you’re feeling low to withdraw from friends and family. This may especially be a problem if you’re also struggling with menopausal anxiety and the thought of being in a social situation terrifies you.
But speaking to people you know and trust can take some of the weight off your shoulders, and socialising (as horrendous as the thought may seem) can end up really boosting your mood.
If you’re struggling to open up to those close to you, you might want to consider reaching out to a therapist or counsellor. You can find someone local to you here.
There is evidence that if your mood changes are related to the menopause, HRT can be an effective way of managing them – more effective than antidepressants. Ask your GP if they would be suitable to you.
TRY TO EXERCISE REGULARLY
Exercise releases endorphins – your brain’s own-brand pick-me-up.
It might feel like the last thing you want to do, especially if you’re also affected by another menopausal symptom, lack of motivation, but getting a bit of a sweat on can do wonders for your mind as well as your body.
Start off small – a 20-minute walk a day perhaps, or a few lengths of the pool. You’ll soon see that you don’t have to train like an Olympian to feel the benefit.
KICK THE BOOZE FOR A BIT
It’s normalised and even glamorised in films and on television to reach for a bottle of wine when we’re feeling low as a way to quickly lift our spirits.
The problem with this is that wine – or any booze for that matter – actually pulls us further into the hole. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system affecting our mood, wrecks the body’s ability to sleep properly, lowers the level of serotonin in our brains, intensifies negative feelings and reduces our inhibitions.
Go sober if you can or limit your intake – the bottle may appear to be a friend in times of need but it’s really a foe.
STICK TO A ROUTINE
When we’re depressed it’s really easy to let normal routines slide. It’s a vicious cycle, especially when it comes to the basics – food and sleep.
Try to stick to schedule with your meals. It may sound strange, but depression often leads to a loss of appetite which means you forget to eat or purposely skip meals. Not feeding your body the good stuff it needs to function properly won’t help your head.
Depression often comes hand-in-hand with insomnia too. Make sure you go to bed at a similar time each night, and put your phone down and switch the telly off a couple of hours before, as the blue light they emit disrupts your natural sleep-wake cycle.
HINTS AND TIPS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SUPPORT SOMEONE THEY THINK MAY BE ENTERING OR IN MENOPAUSE
It can be very hard to know how best to support someone when they are in the grips of depression. We hope that the following suggestions help you to help them at this tricky time.
OUR ADVICE TO THEM
The practical steps we’ve suggested include creating routines around sleeping and eating in order to look after their physical wellbeing
ASK THEM TO EXPLAIN
You may have had depression before in your life. But you are not them.
Don’t assume you know what they feel like. Gently ask them to explain the effect depression is having on them physically and emotionally.
You may not be able to do anything to make them feel better. But they may not want answers, they may just need to talk – and be properly heard. Switch your listening ears on and give them your full attention.
HELP THEM TAKE CARE OF HERSELF
As they say, healthy body = healthy mind.
Show solidarity by ditching unhelpful stimulants like cigarettes and depressants like alcohol. Help them eat well by planning, shopping for and making healthy meals. Exercise together so you can both relieve stress and release feel-good endorphins into their system.
GO WITH THE FLOW
You might notice their difficult feelings peak when you’ve got plans. The truth is going to social events may be more stressful than usual, as the pressure of keeping up appearances when you’re not feeling like yourself is hard work.
Be prepared for plans to change at short notice and try not to put them under any pressure, even if it means you are missing out as well.
LET THEM KNOW YOU CARE
Knowing we’re loved, appreciated and supported is a powerful thing when we’re feeling emotionally and physically wobbly. However, telling a friend or partner without sounding patronising is easier said than done.
Let them know through your actions. If you live with them, that might be making time to eat dinner together, asking how their day has been and really listening, or gestures like prepping then lunch for work and sorting chores without being asked. If you’re a friend, why not send a care package, arrange a coffee or even just drop them a text to let them know you’re thinking of them?
GET SOME SUPPORT
If you are at a loss as to what to say or do – it may be the right time to draft in the A-Team.
No, we’re not suggesting you helicopter B.A. Baracus into your back garden… just talk to a mate who’s coped with a similar situation, ask occupational health if you’re at work, or enlist professional help in the form of couples counselling. You don’t have to figure it all out on your own.
If you’re worried about depression, you should see your GP who can discuss your symptoms in the context of the menopause.
If you'd like more information, we have put some further references below for you.