How to Get a Grip on Menopausal Depression
Celebrities and friends were shocked when L’Wren Scott, glamorous model-turned-designer girlfriend of Mick Jagger, committed suicide in her upscale New York apartment. Once again, life is not always as it seems and fighting to maintain that illusion can be deadly, especially as women grow older. Scott’s suicide, at the age of 49, is raising the question of whether undiagnosed menopausal depression played a role. Although that is just a theory, experts now know that the risk of suicide increases dramatically as we cross the threshold of middle age.
Although there’s no definitive link between celebrity designer L’Wren Scott’s suicide and menopausal depression, the tragedy spurred a fellow celeb to hop on Twitter and get the conversation rolling about menopausal depression and whether women are really paying attention to the signs. Recently, a study by the CDC showed that suicides in middle-aged persons (ages 35-64) increased by 28% over a 10-year time frame. It’s probably no coincidence that those high numbers reflect the transition of vibrant baby boomers into middle and older age.
If you really don’t feel like your “normal” self and are struggling to find any joy in your day, please take the time to be evaluated and treated by a knowledgeable doctor. If these feelings of depression are happening in partnership with perimenopause or menopause, step back and take stock. It could be menopausal depression creeping in alongside the hot flashes and insomnia.
Know the Triggers
The Massachusetts Women’s Health Study looked at more than 2,000 women and found an increased risk for depression during the transition from reproductive years into menopause beginning long before your last missed period. It found that mood disorders occurred in up to 17% of menopausal women, confirming what most of us suspected, which is that menopause affects not only our bodies, but especially our emotions and brain functionality. Hormones impact endorphin levels, so when your brain neuromodulators of estrogen and progesterone are up and down so is your sense of well-being.
Lack of those feel-good hormones lead to mood swings and those in turn can result in your family heading for the nearest exit! Cleveland Clinic lists some helpful signs of depression such as: sadness, loss of energy, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, loss of enjoyment from things that were once pleasurable, difficulty concentrating, uncontrollable crying, difficulty making decisions, irritability, increased need for sleep, insomnia or excessive sleep, a change in appetite causing weight loss or gain, thoughts of death or suicide or attempting suicide.
The North American Menopause Society outlines the different types of depression and goes so far to say that if you suffered from PMS, then menopausal symptoms are likely to be rougher. Many menopausal women can tell you that mood swings are often accompanied by anxiety and insomnia. That’s a pretty clear invitation for depression to join the party.
Here’s the difference: feeling blue sometimes is common, but if you’re continually feeling hopelessness, emptiness and persistent anxiety, it is likely time to locate a good menopause specialist. A great way to prepare for your first visit is to chart your symptoms so you’re ready to share some hard evidence when you go in. Remember, during perimenopause and menopause you can find that your memory is not as sharp as it used to be. My Menopause Symptoms Chart is an easy and simple way to help you communicate to your doctor exactly how you are feeling. Start tracking those symptoms tonight!
Hormonal Testing and Treatment
Talk to your doctor about doing a hormone panel. Fortunately for us, when it comes to testing for hormone levels – no pencil is needed, and you really can’t fail! If you’re still menstruating, have your hormone panel (blood test) done during the first three days of your period. Here are the tests to ask for:
- DHEAS: DHEA sulfate is a hormone that easily converts into other hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. This adrenal hormone triggers puberty and is of the highest concentration of the hormones in the body. DHEAS is the sulfated form of DHEA in the blood. While DHEA levels fluctuate throughout the day, DHEAS blood levels are steadier and more reliable.
- Estradiol: Estradiol is the main type of estrogen produced in the body, secreted by the ovaries. Low levels can cause memory lapses resulting in sticky notes aplenty, anxiety, depression, uncontrollable bursts of anger, sleeplessness, night drenches and much more.
- Free and Total Testosterone: Free testosterone is unbound and metabolically active, and total testosterone includes both free and bound testosterone. In women, the ovaries’ production of testosterone maintains a healthy libido, strong bones, muscle mass and mental stability.
- FSH: Follicle-stimulating hormone is a pituitary hormone that stimulates the growth of the ovum (the egg and surrounding cells that produce ovarian hormones. This test can help indicate whether you’ve entered menopause. However, the suggested normal ranges need to be examined along with your Menopause Symptoms Chart, so that your doctor can properly evaluate the test results. There is no one-size-fits-all correct test result. What is normal for your best friend, sister or mother may not be normal for you.
- Progesterone: Progesterone is a hormone that stimulates the uterus and prepares it for pregnancy. It also regulates the menstrual cycle, and low levels of progesterone can cause irritability. Results will vary depending on when the test is done.
- ThyroidWorkup: This usually includes checking your TSH(thyroid-stimulating hormone). If there is an irregularity with your TSH, you may need to get your Total T3 and Free T4 checked as well. (Free means it won’t be affected by your estrogen status, not free of charge!) Remember that the symptoms for perimenopause and menopause and a thyroid disorder can be very similar.
This hormone panel, along with the information you gathered on your Menopause Symptoms Chart, will help your specialist evaluate the cause of your depression and help create an individualized treatment program just for you.
Natural Methods for Fighting Depression
I know that you’re eager to feel better right now! You can start by improving your diet and ‘eating clean’. In addition to the obvious benefits of keeping obesity at bay, you’ll feel good about taking control, not to mention healthy diets can even stave off the effects of dementia, particularly if you modify prior to age 50.
“Exercise, exercise, exercise is the best proven natural method for fighting depression,” according to Dr. Julia Frank. This is good news for the more than 120 million around the world suffering from the disorder. It’s not even like you have to be an athlete, or hit the gym every day, but do drive up your heart rate for at least 30 minutes with an activity you enjoy, which could lead to even more fun in the bedroom!
Say farewell to any embarrassment associated with addressing your perimenopause and menopause symptoms. A little self-care will go a long way toward preventing us from becoming a statistic. Simon and Garfunkel preached it in the ‘70’s—build your own ‘bridge over troubled water.’ Taking that critical first step to banish menopausal depression could be the most important one you ever take.
Suffering in Silence is Out! Reaching Out is In!
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