Midlife Depression - Ellen Dolgen
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Midlife Depression

Are anxiety, stress, and worry continually knocking at your door like unwelcomed houseguests?  We’re at that time in our lives when life stressors like caring for ailing parents, raising children, and working full-time are on a collision course. Mix menopausal hormones, stir, and you’ve got a recipe for depression.

Twice as many women as men suffer from depression, and menopause can be the tipping point between waking up with a smile and pulling the covers over your head! During your menopausal journey, estrogen levels begin to plummet. These fluctuations affect serotonin (a chemical messenger that acts as a mood stabilizer) and norepinephrine (also called adrenaline and is behind our fight-or-flight response) which influence our mood and behavior. This helps to explain why you might be grumpy, unusually depressed, irritable, anxious, hypersensitive, have erratic mood swings, and feel lonely, yet all you want is to be left alone.  

According to the North American Menopause Society“Studies show that mood changes have been observed in up to 23% of peri- and postmenopausal women. Additionally, symptoms of anxiety—tension, nervousness, panic, and worry—are reported more frequently during perimenopause than before it, regardless of whether symptoms of depression are present or not.”

Even the various stages of menopause can affect your mental wellbeing.  The National Institute of Health uncovered significant differences between peri and postmenopausal women in vitality and quality of life.  Two control groups of each age range were scored on anxiety, depression, and quality of life, and the differences between the two groups were dramatic.  Considering you spend one-third of your life in the peri and postmenopausal years, it’s an excellent time to sit up and take notice.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled, Why So Many Women in Middle Age Are on Antidepressants states, “About one in five women ages 40 to 59 and nearly one in four women ages 60 and over have used antidepressants in the last 30 days during 2015 to 2018, according to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Among women ages 18-39, the figure was about one in 10.”

The article states, “Researchers at NIHM who have been following 90 women since 1988 have found that the incidence of women’s midlife depression is concentrated in the two years before and after the last menstrual period.”   The article goes on to explain that midlife depression involves intense anxiety, irritability, and sleep problems along with sadness and loss of pleasure.

The WSJ article suggested that new treatments for depression for women in midlife are on the horizon. I was excited to read that scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health are studying a medication that acts on an estrogen receptor in the brain. They explained that, unlike typical antidepressants, this new medication would target depression symptoms related to estrogen withdrawal.

Dr. Stephanie Faubion, the Medical Director of the North American Menopause Society and the Director of Mayo Clinic Women’s Health, stated that many women experiencing hot flashes and night sweats are getting put on antidepressants. Although antidepressants can ease hot flashes and night sweats, Faubion explained that they are much less effective than hormones.

So, what is a woman to do if she is experiencing depression, anxiety, and their BFF-insomnia? Rather than self-medicate with increased alcohol consumption, find a Menopause Specialist.  If you don’t have one, I have some great tips here: Tips on How to Find a Menopause Specialist.

Download my free Menopause Symptoms Chart to help you chart those menopausal symptoms. Take this chart in with you to your Menopause Specialist. It will help you describe how you feel. Together with some hormone testing, your specialist will be able to create an individual protocol for you.

Balancing menopausal hormones is an essential first step to feeling better. Often, women find that hormone replacement therapy as recommended by their specialist is enough to get them in top shape.  If there is a need for further evaluation by a psychiatrist who might prescribe antidepressants, those meds work more effectively once hormonal levels are closer to normal, especially estrogen.

There are some simple, positive steps you can take right now to improve your quality of life.  We hear it repeatedly, but exercise is a critical component of a good, healthy lifestyle. If you feel that your days are already jam-packed, no worries. Scientists have published new studies that show short bursts of intensive exercise, taking 10 minutes are less, are enough to get the job done by dramatically increasing oxygen consumption.  If you feel the need for something less dramatic, take a walk with or friend or try yoga. Yoga can be modified to comply with any fitness level.  Even better news:  yoga improves sleep efficiency, as shown in an NIH study.  It turns out sleep is critical, too.

Trust how you feel and get the help you need and deserve!

Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!

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*EllenDolgen.com does not recommend, endorse, or make any representation about any tests, studies, practices, procedures, treatments, services, opinions, healthcare providers, physicians, or medical institutions that may be mentioned or referenced.


2 thoughts on “Midlife Depression”

    1. I agree, Robin. Women are suffering and too embarrassed to talk about it with their families and their practitioners. I am so happy that midlife depression is finally on the agenda!!!!

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