You might be surprised to learn how common it is for menopause to change our mental health and wellbeing.
Mental wellbeing is more complicated than being ‘ok’ or ‘not ok’, particularly as our lives can be stressful and busy, leaving us with little time to reflect on our feelings. This makes it all the more difficult to recognise if the menopause is causing changes to our mental health.
Our doctors have written this article, to explain how menopause can impact your mental health, and how to recognise that you might not be feeling ok.
Which mental health symptoms can we experience with the menopause?
Some women pass through menopause with no noticeable changes to their brain function or mood. Others, unfortunately, won't be so lucky. Mental health symptoms such as anxiety, feeling low, and memory changes, are common amongst menopausal and perimenopausal women
Of the 34 symptoms of the menopause, those centred around mental health include:
- Low mood
- Unexplained anxiety
- Depression (persistent low mood, which won't go away) (1)
- Mood swings
- Brain fog, or difficulties with memory
- Problems with concentration
- Feelings of low self-esteem
- Having reduced motivation
- Low energy.
The people we treat often tell us that brain fog is one of the most challenging symptoms of menopause, this may cause anxiety relating to our careers or our daily lives, as we feel less able to operate at the same level.
Why does this happen?
Menopause and hormonal changes may not be the root cause of changes to your mental health, often life events, relationships, work, diet and lifestyle will all play a part. But the hormonal changes of menopause can wreak havoc on the brain.
Because so many aspects of life affect your mental health it can be difficult for academic studies to isolate single causes.
Broadly, there's agreement that the risk of some mental health problems will increase during your perimenopause. One large study identified that the perimenopause is linked to a higher risk of depression and depressive symptoms
Our hormones interact with some of the important chemicals that control our mood (e.g. serotonin and norepinephrine). When hormone levels change at menopause, these important chemicals can become imbalanced and increase the risk of altered and lower moods. The risk decreases after menopause, when your hormones are more stable again.
As menopause becomes a greater priority globally, scientists are working to understand the possible link between changes in hormone levels and mood swings. We'll be watching this space carefully and keeping you up to date.
Why the timing is important
For most of us, the menopause turns up when our lives are already hectic! It usually comes at a time when we take on responsibilities with our families, our careers and our ageing parents.
Just thinking about the amount women have going on during menopause is enough to give us a headache. With so much on our plates, taking a break can be hard. Often women are not thinking about themselves at all - putting everyone else's needs above their own. As a result, there's an increased risk of burnout, and mental health problems.
We must not forget that physical symptoms some women experience at menopause can add to the burden. Juggling life is enough - without hot flushes, night sweats or sleep problems.
Recognise how much you're taking on - and try to give yourself some space to look after your mental health. Exercise, good nutrition, mindfulness and hobbies you enjoy can all help. Along with other more structured ways of getting support such as talking therapy, CBT, or group therapy.
So much time spent thinking about other people makes it tough to recognise when you aren't feeling good.
Listening to the signs
- Some signs that your mood might have dropped include:
- Feeling exhausted all the time
- Crying more often than usual
- Other people, such as partners or colleagues, asking if you're feeling ok
- Changes to appetite (both wanting more or less food)
- Feeling worried about things that haven't bothered you in the past
- Low motivation
- Enjoying life less.
Don't ignore these changes, or think they are just 'part of life'. They build up, and can lead to more serious problems if they're ignored.
Tracking your symptoms can be a helpful way to understand your mood. If you're trying to understand more about your mood, some of the following resources might help:
- NHS app store for mental health. This is a library of apps which have been reviewed and approved by the NHS. They cover everything from stress to sleep.
- NHS every mind matters website. You can get a personal plan to help you take care of your mental health. It gives you a few simple, evidence based things to try to improve your mental health and wellbeing.
- The MIND website. Mind is an amazing charity that provides a whole range of information and support for your mental health
- The Samaritans website and hotline. If you're ever feeling low and don't feel there's a place to turn, the Samaritans provide a fantastic, confidential service. Don't go through a crisis alone.