Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/22/2022
Here’s an unfortunate truth: For many women, hormonal fluctuations can either lead to or exacerbate depression.
The connection between depression and hormones is often reproductive hormones like progesterone and estrogen, although there are other hormones that may induce depressive feelings.
Learn all about it here.
Simply put, depression is a mental health condition that negatively affects the way you think, feel and act. It can vary in severity, with some people experiencing mild depression, others dealing with moderate depression and some navigating major depressive disorder or severe depression.
Neurotransmitters are thought to be involved in how depression plays out in your brain. The working theory that having low levels of certain neurotransmitters — which are what convey info between neurons — is what leads to depression. Some of the neurotransmitters connected to depression include serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.
So, what does depression look like? If you think you may be dealing with it, there are signs of depression you should be on the lookout for, including:
Irritability or guilt
Feeling helpless or worthless
Having low energy
No longer enjoying activities you once enjoyed
Change in appetite
Weight gain or loss
Avoiding social activities
Physical symptoms like aches and pains
Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
To be diagnosed with depression, your depressive symptoms must persist for at least two weeks.
It is possible that fluctuation in hormones can lead to a depressed mood. For example, perhaps you have heard of postpartum depression (PPD).
This type of depression is thought to be triggered by hormonal changes that occur after you have a baby. When you are pregnant, your levels of estrogen and progesterone — two hormones tied to reproduction — are the highest they’ll ever be. But within 24 hours of giving birth, they go back to your pre-pregnancy levels. It’s thought that this quick drop could lead to depression.
PPD affects approximately one in seven new parents. It’s worth noting that women with a history of depression are more likely to experience PPD.
Similarly, some women experience perinatal depression, which starts during pregnancy and may also be connected to hormones. But rather than the drop of hormones connected to PPD, perinatal depression may be associated with the surge of those same hormones during pregnancy.
And perimenopause, which is the period before full menopause takes effect, doesn’t just cause hot flashes and vaginal dryness. It can also make some women experience depression.
The hormones associated with your monthly cycle are the same ones that influence serotonin — the neurotransmitter mentioned above that can influence feelings of happiness. During perimenopause, shifts and fluctuations in these hormones are continuous, which puts some women at risk for major depression. Specifically, falling hormones during perimenopause can cause mood swings and depression.
So, what do all the things above have in common? They’re all associated with reproductive hormones — which are also tied to your menstrual cycle.
Some women even experience depressive feelings during their cycle. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) are period-related mood disorders that may manifest as depression.
Finally, it’s thought that there’s a potential link between your thyroid hormones and depression. Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone and it can often manifest with symptoms of depression. Hyperthyroidism, which is when you produce too much thyroid hormone, may lead to both depression and anxiety.
If you are dealing with depression, you do not have to let it permanently affect your quality of life. The following treatment options are available to you and can help you live more happily.
There are many different types of therapy available. If you are interested in trying it as a way of helping with depression, you should consult with a healthcare provider to see what type is best for you.
If you decide to use CBT, you’ll work with a mental health professional to figure out patterns and behaviors that may not be aiding your depression — or making it worse. From there, you’ll collaborate on ways to change those behaviors.
Antidepressants, which require a prescription, boost levels of these neurotransmitters to help with depression.
You should know that the term “antidepressants” includes a few different types of medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (for example, sertraline), serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (like venlafaxine) and tricyclic antidepressants.
When you start taking an antidepressant, it will take somewhere between four to eight weeks before you notice a lessening in symptoms. It’s important to stick with taking the medication during this time and not just stop because you don’t notice a difference.
In addition to antidepressants, if your depression is a result of perimenopause, a healthcare professional may recommend hormone replacement therapies like an estrogen patch or progesterone pills. Sometimes a low-dose oral contraceptive may also be prescribed.
Hormone medication is not a good fit for women who smoke, have high blood pressure or deal with blood clotting issues.
Depression is a mental illness that can affect the way you act and feel.
This condition goes beyond just feeling like you are in a depressed mood. Depressive symptoms include sleep disturbances, weight gain or weight loss, irritability and more. Severity can also vary, with some people experiencing major depression and others having a more mild form.
For women, hormones can play a role in depression. For example, after pregnancy, progesterone and estrogen hormone levels drop quickly, which can lead to postpartum depression. Women who have a history of depression are more likely to experience PPD.
For some women, once the immediate postpartum period is over, the depression lessens. But some women need help from a mental health professional, even after the postpartum period.
Perimenopause can also affect how you feel. Beyond symptoms like hot flashes, shifting hormone levels can put you at risk for depression.
Another cause of hormonal depression is hormone imbalances caused by your thyroid gland.