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Hormones and Depression: What is the Connection?

Katelyn Hagerty

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. 

What is Depression? 

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. 

Symptoms of Depression

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:

  • Being restless

  • Consistent feelings of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness 

  • Irritability or guilt 

  • Feeling helpless or worthless

  • Having low energy

  • Fatigue

  • No longer enjoying activities you once enjoyed

  • Change in appetite

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Avoiding social activities

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • 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.

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The Connection Between Hormones and Depression

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. 

Effective Treatment for Depression

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.

Therapy

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. 

One commonly used modality is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And research backs up the fact that it can help depressed patients. 

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.  

Medication 

Another option to treat depression are antidepressants. Very often, a combination of therapy and medication will be used. 

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.

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Hormones and Depression in Women

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. 

If you are experiencing depressive symptoms, it is a good idea to speak with a mental health professional. Hers offers online therapy and online psychiatry to make it easy.

12 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. What is Depression? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression
  2. Hyman, S.E. (2005, March 8). Neurotransmitters. Current Biology. 15 (5), PR154-R158. Retrieved from https://www.cell.com/current-biology/comments/S0960-9822(05)00208-3
  3. Nutt, D,J. (2008). Relationship of neurotransmitters to the symptoms of major depressive disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2008;69 Suppl E1. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18494537/
  4. Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression
  5. Postpartum Depression. Office on Women’s Health. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/postpartum-depression
  6. Postpartum Depression. Cleveland Clinic. Retreived from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9312-postpartum-depression
  7. Perinatal Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/perinatal-depression
  8. Can Menopause Cause Depression? Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/can-menopause-cause-depression
  9. Menstrually Related Mood Disorders. UNC School of Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.med.unc.edu/psych/wmd/resources/mood-disorders/menstrually-related/
  10. Hage, M., Azar, S., (2012). The Link Between Thyroid Function and Depression. Journal of Thyroid Research. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3246784/
  11. Gautam, M., Tripathi, A., Deshmukh, D., Gaur, M., (2020). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7001356/
  12. What Meds Treat Depression? Mental Health America. Retrieved from https://screening.mhanational.org/content/what-meds-treat-depression/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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