Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/2/2022
Going through “the change” can bring on a whole lot of, well, changes. That’s because hormonal shifts that take place within a woman’s body can cause things like hot flashes, sleep disturbances, headaches and more. And since we know menopause can affect our day-to-day mood, it’s no surprise that people often wonder about the link between menopause and depression.
Mood fluctuations during menopause are common, but some women also experience a depressed mood as well. These things can seriously impact your quality of life.
But is there a legitimate link between menopause and depression? That’s the question we’re going to answer today.
Depression is one of a number of mental health conditions that impacts how you think, feel and act in a negative way. Considered to be a mental illness, some people experience mild depression, while others deal with severe depression (sometimes called major depressive disorder).
Though it is not fully understood how depression works, it’s believed that neurotransmitters (the things that transfer info between neurons) may contribute to it. Experts believe that — along with a wide array of other social, psychological and biological issues — when you have low levels of certain neurotransmitters, it may contribute to experiencing depressive symptoms.
So, how do you know if you have depression? Signs of depressioninclude restlessness, irritability, consistent feelings of hopelessness, lack of energy, fatigue, appetite changes, weight gain or weight loss and no longer enjoying things you once did.
In severe cases, people may also have thoughts of self-harm or even suicide.
A depression diagnosis comes if emotional and/or physical symptoms have persisted for two or more weeks.
If it has been 12 months or longer since your last period, you are considered to be in menopause.
So, when does this happen? For many women, this change occurs between the ages of about 44 and 55, respectively. That said, the transition to menopause can happen before or even after these ages.
The period leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. It’s most often during this stage that women experience menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings. You may also be more prone to depression after menopause if you have a history of depression.
Menopause occurs because the ovaries stop producing the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. It is worth noting that you may experience menopausal symptoms both before and after your period stops.
The hormone fluctuations and eventual cease in production of certain hormones that occur with menopause can lead to feelings of depression.
This is because those hormones discussed above also are tied to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that is connected to feelings of happiness. So, when those hormones drop off, it may contribute to experiencing symptoms of depression.
Beyond this, these hormonal issues can cause problems with sleep — and if you’re not getting good rest, it can affect your mood.
If you experience depression before you are fully in menopause, it is considered perimenopausal depression.
There are a few different ways of dealing with depression if menopause causes depression. It is best to consult with a healthcare professional about your depressive symptoms and how you can treat them. Often, they will suggest things like therapy, medication, lifestyle changes or a combination of all three.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat depression — and research shows that it can really help.
In CBT, you will work with a trained professional to identify behaviors or patterns that do not serve you. After that, you will work with them to figure out ways to shift those behaviors for the better. The end goal is to hopefully alleviate some of the emotional symptoms of depression by re-routing yourself away from things that trigger it.
Antidepressants can also be prescribed to help with psychological factors and depression symptoms.
Antidepressants require a prescription and there are a few different types that can help with clinical depression.
They include, among others, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (like fluoxetine or sertraline), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (such as venlafaxine) and tricyclic antidepressants.
Just a heads up about medication, don’t expect instantaneous results. These medications can take several weeks before you begin to feel their full effects, so make sure you’re being patient.
Of course, lastly, there’s lifestyle. Your healthcare provider may suggest things like upping your physical activity and getting regular exercise, making changes to your diet or getting better sleep.
Yes, all of these things may contribute to your mood. Things like mindful meditation, falling into a consistent exercise regimen, limiting your intake of things like caffeine, walking in nature — all can have an effect on your overall mood.
As you age, your menstrual period tapers off and eventually stops altogether. This is called a menopausal transition.
When you haven’t had your menstrual period in a year, you have completed the transition to menopause. The period before that is called perimenopause. When you stop having menstrual cycles, levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen tend to drop off.
This hormonal shift can lead to menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety symptoms and even depression. All of these things can affect your quality of life.
Women going through menopause who have a history of depression may be more at risk.
If you are experiencing perimenopausal depression or major depression due to menopause, hormone therapy, medication and therapy are all treatment options available to help.
Depression in women due to the transition to menopause is a very real thing. If you’d like help managing your depression during this stage of life, schedule an online consultation with a mental health provider now.
You can discuss your menopause transition, talk about whether you have a history of depression, review your menopausal symptoms and go over treatments like medication, therapy and hormone replacement therapy.