Menopause and mental health!

  • By Dr. T Deepa Porkodi

Menopause is the period in a woman’s life when her man claims she is going crazy. It is also the time when her period is on the decline and hormones are in complete disarray.

Depression, insomnia, irritability, mood swings and lack of concentration are few symptoms that the lady has to battle with. These symptoms may begin as early as 4 years before the actual menopause and may continue for several years after that!

For women, menopause is a significant turning point in their lives. The dropping levels of oestrogen and the resultant physical and mental symptoms can be like a cycle of events, only adding to their woes!

Depression affects every middle-aged woman. An estimated 20% of women have depression at some point during menopause. The peak period for depression is during the perimenopausal years, when the woman is approaching menopause. The reason for this, say experts, is the fact that most women dread menopause. Even though for some it means an end to years of menstrual cramps, for most others it signifies an end to their womanhood. The very idea is sufficient enough to bring on lots of negative thoughts and depression. Not only this, the reason for depression during perimenopausal and menopausal age is the fluctuating hormones. Research shows that the levels of reproductive hormones, specifically oestrogen are responsible for the mental changes.

Changes in the sleep pattern:
Insomnia is seen in 40 to 50% of women in the menopausal transition phase. Women who spend sleepless nights are more likely than others to show irritability, crankiness, stress and depressive symptoms. Sleep disturbances during menopause have been linked to the decreasing oestrogen levels. Indeed this claim can be held true as several women respond positively to exogenous hormone therapy.
One study claims that sleep changes are linked to the Luteinizing Hormone levels, which also results in increased body temperature.

Sleep apnea too occurs in the menopausal transition age. This is due to decreased progesterone level, as progesterone plays an important role in respiration. The weight gain that happens during menopause has also been shown to cause sleep apnea.

Panic disorder:
Panic disorder is commonly seen during the perimenopause stage. Existing disorder may worsen or new disorder may arise. Panic disorder is usually manifested in women who show several physical symptoms of menopause. The panic attacks are usually associated with negative life events, pre-existing medical diseases and decreased daily functionality.

Obsessive compulsive disorder:
New onset of OCD, worsening of the existing condition or change in the pattern of symptoms is seen during menopause. OCD changes are also observed during pregnancy and during the menstrual changes, suggesting the impact of hormones on symptoms of OCD.

Bipolar disorder:
Women with bipolar disorder experience an exacerbation of symptoms during the perimenopausal stage. These women are also the ones that are highly likely to experience severe depression in the menopausal phase.

Schizophrenia usually manifests itself in young adulthood. The rate of new cases decreases gradually thereafter, in both men and women. In women, however, there is a second peak in the 45-50 years age group. This peak is not observed in men. This suggests that oestrogen may play a significant role in triggering schizophrenia or worsening the pre-existing condition.