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 depression in the menopause?
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 the risk may rise again during early menopause and then when we’re post-menopausal due to significantly reduced oestrogen levels.
You may also be more prone to depression during your menopausal journey if you’ve experienced it at other times in your life.
TOP TIPS FOR YOU
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 an antidepressant.
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.
EAT A BANANA EVERY DAY
Antidepressants aren’t the only way to boost levels of mood-enhancing serotonin in your brain.
Bananas naturally contain serotonin, but more importantly, they’re rich in vitamin B6. This is the vitamin our body needs to be able to produce its own serotonin.
Eating the occasional banana as a snack won’t do you any harm, but to really boost your chances of seeing the benefits (and your mood), eat one daily.
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 a 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.
Menopause 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.
TOP TIPS FOR OTHERS
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 her at this tricky time.
OUR ADVICE TO HER
The practical steps we’ve suggested include creating routines around sleeping and eating in order to look after her physical wellbeing. Eating bananas will help her boost vitamin B6 levels – which is what the body needs to produce serotonin, the mood-boosting brain chemical.
More info on all of these top tips is on the ‘For her’ section of this page. Take a look.
ASK HER TO EXPLAIN
You may have had depression before in your life. But you are not her.
Don’t assume you know what she feels like. Gently ask her to explain the effect depression is having on her physically and emotionally.
You may not be able to do anything to make her feel better. But she may not want answers, she may just need to talk – and be properly heard. Switch your listening ears on and give her your full attention.
HELP HER TAKE CARE OF HERSELF
As they say, a healthy body = a healthy mind.
Show solidarity by ditching unhelpful stimulants and depressants like cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. Help her eat well by planning, shopping for and making healthy meals. Exercise together so you can both relieve stress and release feel-good endorphins into her system.
GO WITH THE FLOW
You might notice her 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 her under any pressure, even if it means you are missing out as well.
LET HER 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 her know through your actions. If you live with her, that might be making time to eat dinner together, asking how her day has been and really listening, or gestures like prepping her 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 her a text to let her know you’re thinking of her?
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.