Menopause: that dreaded time defined as the period up to 12 months after your last menstrual period. Most of us already know some of the signs of menopause: hot flashes, mood swings, sleeping problems.
Some women turn to hormone therapies in an attempt to make the process smoother. But good news is on the horizon: Over the past 10 years, women’s health research has turned to studying the relationship between menopause and depression and what might trigger depressive symptoms during the menopausal transition, known as perimenopause. The most current findings may surprise you, and we’ve compiled some of the most interesting ones below. (Disclaimer: Please remember that as they are based on very recent studies, these findings are certainly debateable!) Before we take a closer look at the newest studies on menopause, here’s a quick overview of menopausal symptoms and depressive symptoms:
Common symptoms of menopause include:
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
Depressive symptoms commonly include:
- anhedonia (loss of interest)
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- suicidal ideation
- dysphoria (sadness)
- insomnia or hypersomnia
Current Finding Number 1: There is little to no correlation between hormone levels and depression.
That’s right. This finding came out of from the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study. Hormones, which we blame for so many problems, may actually have little to no effect on whether you suffer symptoms of depression during perimenopause. That might be good news or bad news: good news that women with hormone imbalances may not be at high risk for perimenopausal depression, bad news that perimenopausal depression seems to have far more factors that influence it than fluctuating hormones. The hormones specifically examined were estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormones.
Current Finding Number 2: Women with a lower CES-D score (a test measuring depressive symptoms) usually experience a greater increase in their score throughout the perimenopausal period.
The SWAN study, a Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, used data from over 3,000 women going through menopause to arrive at such a finding surrounding low CES-D scores. It’s an important finding because it suggests that even though past history of depression does increase the chances of perimenopausal depression, there must be other factors at work if women who had no previous history and had low CES-D experienced a significant increase in their scores.
Current Finding Number 3: Life stress, family history of depression, history of “postpartum blues,” and sexual abuse history may all be risk factors for perimenopausal depression.
Bad news for those who suffered from postpartum depression. According to the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study, the “postpartum blues” were identified as a risk factor for perimenopausal depression. These designated risk factors are important because they support the idea that, in addition to (perhaps even more than) hormone fluctuations and body chemistry, your psychological history and life experiences may impact your risk for perimenopausal depression. If you suspect you may be at risk for depression as you enter menopause, always reach out to your doctor!
What do you think of some of these new findings? Have you or a loved one had experience with perimenopausal depression? Share your stories and insights below.