Menopause and peri-menopause are times in a woman’s life when mental health issues can become more prevalent. According to research, women during this time are three times more likely to be suffering from mental health issues than they ever have been before. This is because of a drop in the hormone oestrogen that occurs during this time.
Dr Nicola Gates, a neuropsychologist and author of The Feel Good Guide to Menopause, provides important information about what is happening in the brain for women during this period. Put simply, the brain has the hormone oestrogen in it and oestrogen can be considered a ‘good hormone’ for the brain.
During this period, women experience a drop in oestrogen which can lead to the commonly reported symptom of ‘brain fog’ or a lack of mental clarity, and slow sluggish thinking.
Oestrogen is also involved in memory formation and verbal memory and many women report changes to their memory and ability to find words, which can be very disconcerting.
Oestrogen and progesterone are also psychologically protective and help to reduce stress and keep our balance or calm. Changes during peri-menopause and menopause can make women feel more anxious and irritable, so little things that may not have bothered them before, can suddenly be highly irritating or stressful.
According to the website Wellfem, other contributing factors to depression and anxiety in this period can include:
- Previous mental health conditions
- Poor health or previous premenstrual complaints
- Relationship problems and a lack of social supports
- Negative perceptions of ageing
- Stressful life events
- Drug and alcohol use
- A lack of purpose or meaning
- Other significant symptoms like weight gain, hot flushes, and poor sleep
There are a number of treatments including psychological therapy, medication or hormone treatment, relaxation skills, dietary adjustments (reducing caffeine and alcohol) and exercise, which have all been shown to be beneficial for women during this period.
What can you do now to help?
- Speak to your GP and discuss treatment options. Be selective and choose one who has a good understanding of managing and treating menopause and peri-menopause.
- Identify the symptoms that are troubling you most, and develop a plan or skills to help you manage them more effectively. For instance, if your sleep is disrupted, try learning about sleep hygiene techniques or practice relaxation exercises before bed and upon waking.
- Start some exercise. We know that 10 minutes of exercise has a positive effect on your mood and can help with anxiety. So adding in exercise will only make you feel better.
- Speak to friends, family or a trained professional. Sharing information and accessing support means you don’t have to feel so alone in this important time of change.
- Finally, if you choose to access a psychologist or allied health professional, try to find one with a good understanding of how to support you during this period.