Are Depression And Menopause Related?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Menopause is a major milestone in the lives of many women. From puberty and menarche to pregnancy and childbirth, our bodies undergo numerous changes over our lifetimes. The last transition, menopause, is just as significant as the rest; as such, it requires sensitivity and recognition so that those experiencing it are as comfortable as possible. Menopause can affect women’s health in many ways. In addition to having an impact on your physical health, menopause can also affect mental health and can even increase the risk of depression.

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Are you struggling with symptoms of depression during menopause?

Depression and menopause

For many people, depression is a common symptom during the time leading to menopause. This can be uncomfortable not only for the individual experiencing menopause but also difficult for family members who are concerned. Symptoms can have a significant effect on a woman's life, so it's crucial to understand the symptoms (especially when taken within the context of menopause) and to know the potential options available for antidepressant treatment. Some common symptoms of depression include:

  • Irritability
  • Low mood or persistent feelings of sadness
  • Feeling empty, hopeless, or guilty
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having thoughts of suicide*

*If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7.

What is menopause?

Menopause is the technical term for the time of life when one stops menstruating (it officially starts 12 months after their last period). For most people, this generally occurs somewhere between the ages of 45 and 55.

The transition into menopause, also known as perimenopause, lasts between 7 and 14 years and is often characterized by a number of symptoms, such as hot flashes, that develop due to hormonal shifts. Symptoms occur in response to physiological and reproductive hormones changing in the body as it goes through the transition to menopause. Hormonal shifts that occur can increase one’s risk of developing certain health conditions, such as heart disease. Major depression is a common symptom of both perimenopause and menopause, but it is by no means the only symptom. Some other symptoms of menopause include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Fluctuations in or absence of the menstrual cycle 
  • Changes in vaginal lubrication
  • Increased potential for vaginal and bladder infections
  • Sleep problems such as insomnia, sleep disturbance, or poor sleep
  • Changes in sex drive; there can be an increased or decreased libido in the status of sex after menopause.
  • Mood swings (moodiness and/or irritability)
  • Body changes: weight gain and muscle loss, thinner skin, and achiness are all common
  • Memory problems
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations (in rare cases)

Anxiety and depression symptoms are frequently observed in people who are experiencing the transition to menopause as well as those who have already gone through the transition and are now officially menopausal. Unfortunately, the connection between depression and menopause isn’t very well studied yet, even though it is an undeniable part of perimenopause and the beginning stages of menopause for many people. Although not much is known about why most women experience depression during this time, there is plenty of information available on how to treat it and maintain emotional health.

What's the connection?

There is a well-established connection between depression and menopause, but the actual causes are highly variable. The most propagated theory relates to the effects of dropping estrogen levels. Throughout life until menopause, the body produces estrogen to start menstruation, encourage physical development, manage sex drive, manage the growth of the uterine lining during pregnancy, and control weight gain and metabolism. At the onset of menopause, estrogen production dramatically drops, which can lead to a variety of symptoms.

In fact, hormonal shifts that occur during perimenopause and menopause are similar to those that occur during the postpartum period and that contribute to postpartum depression. At certain stages during and after pregnancy, or right before menarche (the start of menstruation), many people experience similar (though often less dramatic) symptoms. This demonstrates the connection between a decrease in hormone production and depression during the first stages of menopause.

For those experiencing this, having the “menopause blues” is normal. Feeling somewhat more irritable, sad, or melancholic than usual is to be expected. However, some people experience more noticeable symptoms that negatively affect their ability to function and get through the day. No matter the severity, depression can be very uncomfortable. It’s important for individuals experiencing menopause to be aware of their symptoms as well as resources that are available to them so that they can get treatment they need.

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Treating menopause and depression

Depression during menopause can be the result of a number of different things, not only dropping estrogen levels. For example, sleep troubles, changing body image, changes in physical appearance, and changes in sex drive can all be causes for symptoms as well. While the overall symptoms are often attributed to hormonal changes, symptoms can arise from multiple sources. Here are some of the most effective ways to treat menopause-related depression symptoms:

  • Exercise and physical movement: Exercise is an incredibly important part of any treatment plan for depression, especially for those who are entering menopause. When you exercise for 20 minutes or longer, performing continuous, moderately strenuous movements, your body releases endorphins that can lead to feelings of happiness and calm. Maintaining a regular exercise routine not only increases the “happy hormones” in your body but can also create a sense of routine in your schedule that can in and of itself be reassuring during the transition to menopause. If you exercised before, try to keep up your old routine or modify it to suit your changing needs. Although it can be difficult to start or continue an exercise routine when you’re experiencing depression, it can make a huge difference in your mood.
  • Yoga/meditation: Establishing a regular yoga or meditation practice (or even a combination of the two) is a powerful way to reconnect with your mind and body as you’re going through the transition to menopause. If you’re feeling symptoms of depression, meditation can allow you to “get away” for a period of time so that you have an opportunity to gain perspective and enjoy a few moments of peace. Plus, because your body goes through changes during menopause just as it did during menarche, practicing gentle movements like yoga can help you relearn your body and practice working with it in new ways.
  • Herbal remedies and dietary changes: For thousands of years in China and India, people who started perimenopause visited traditional acupuncture or Ayurveda practitioners for advice. Some practitioners of these medical methods would offer specific herbs to women and propose very particular dietary changes to help them manage the symptoms of the transition to perimenopause and menopause. Even in the West, it was at one time common for herbs and diet to be used to manage perimenopause and menopause symptoms for those experiencing them. Today, these traditional therapies are making a comeback. If you’re interested in natural remedies for treating menopause symptoms, contact a specialist so that you can get high-quality, personalized information for your unique situation.
  • Hormone replacement therapy: For those entering menopause, hormone replacement therapy (with either organic or synthetic hormones) can be a viable and popular treatment. This treatment involves the administration of extra estrogen during perimenopause in order to reduce the problems associated with decreased hormone levels, such as the symptoms of anxiety and depression. The estrogen may be self-administered either as a pill, a patch, a gel, or a special vaginal ring. Contact a hormone replacement therapy treatment specialist for more information if this treatment option appeals to you.

Therapy

While the symptoms of depression are most commonly caused by something physiological, that doesn’t mean that therapy can’t help those experiencing it. For example, therapy for the symptoms of depression can help perimenopausal people to reflect more consciously on their mood and its correlation with their physical symptoms. For many people experiencing menopause, being able to discuss the changes in mood, feelings, and appearance is a major key to being able to successfully overcome the symptoms of depression. While not all the symptoms may go away with only therapeutic treatment, therapy can be a viable addition to any menopause treatment plan because it offers support and reassurance during this life change. This support can be particularly crucial for individuals with aging parents or those struggling with substance abuse during this period.

Online therapy and BetterHelp

If you’re considering therapy to help navigate the complicated side effects of menopause or to address other life challenges, the mental health professionals at BetterHelp can give you the support you need. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that provides a team of licensed therapists who can help you manage symptoms of depression and other mental health concerns. Online therapy can be a discreet and flexible way to find the tools and guidance you need. Although depression can make it hard to get out of bed, you can still get care from the comfort of your home by utilizing online therapy. 

The effectiveness of online therapy

Online therapy can be a powerful tool for treating depression and other types of mental health disorders. One study found that internet-delivered psychotherapy significantly reduced symptoms of depression. Those who had never utilized online therapy before saw even greater improvements in their symptoms. However, results were consistent across gender, income, and physical health status, speaking to the efficacy of online therapy for people from all backgrounds. 

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Are you struggling with symptoms of depression during menopause?

Takeaway

The transition to menopause can be a difficult time in an individual’s life, but everyone’s experience looks different. It’s important to know the signs of depression should you have any symptoms that are making it hard for you to function from day to day. An online therapist can help you develop a suitable treatment plan to support, heal, and comfort you during your menopausal transition— whatever it may look like for you. 

Understand how menopause impacts the body and mind
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