October marks an important month dedicated to raising awareness about a significant phase in a woman’s life – Menopause Awareness Month.
The International Menopause Society (IMS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have designated this month to emphasise the importance of understanding and supporting people going through menopause.
PAPYRUS recognises menopause can be a complex journey, often impacting mental health, and in light of Menopause Awareness Month, we’ll take a look at the connections between menopause and mental health so whether you are somebody currently going through menopause or someone looking to offer support, you can better understand this natural phase.
Menopause is a natural and inevitable part of a woman’s life. It is when a woman’s menstrual cycle has ceased for 12 or more months, marking the end of the reproductive years. This transition typically occurs in the late 40s or early 50s and is characterised by hormonal changes, which can lead to various physical and emotional symptoms.
During menopause, many women experience symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, migraines and sleep disturbances. However, what’s less commonly discussed are the emotional and psychological challenges that often accompany this stage of life. Mood swings, anxiety, brain fog, and feelings of sadness or depression can become prominent during menopause, making it a crucial period for mental health awareness.
The perimenopause phase
Before reaching menopause, women go through a transitional phase called perimenopause. This period, which can occur between 42 and 52, is a pivotal moment in a woman’s life and often brings hormonal fluctuations and various changes. Perimenopause can cause irregularities and shifts in hormone levels. During this time, women may experience:
- Irregular periods: Menstrual cycles become unpredictable, with variations in length and flow.
- Hot flashes and night sweats: These familiar menopausal symptoms can appear early, causing sleep disturbances and discomfort.
- Mood swings: Hormonal fluctuations can lead to mood swings, irritability, and heightened emotional sensitivity.
- Changes in libido: Shifts in sexual desire and potential discomfort during intercourse may occur.
- Physical symptoms: Headaches, joint pain, and changes in hair and skin can manifest.
- Weight fluctuations: Changes in body weight and composition can affect self-esteem.
The menopause-mental health connection
The emotional rollercoaster during menopause should be taken seriously, as it can be a significant and often difficult time for those experiencing it. Fluctuating hormone levels can have a profound impact on one’s emotional wellbeing. It’s not uncommon for women to experience heightened stress, anxiety, and even depression during this phase. These mental health challenges can be exacerbated by changes in body image, self-esteem, and sense of identity.
What makes the connection between menopause and mental health even more significant is the increased risk of developing mood disorders. For some women, these struggles can become overwhelming and, in some cases, even lead to thoughts of suicide. It’s crucial to understand that these emotional battles are not a sign of weakness but part of the menopausal journey.
Suicide prevention and menopause
Discussing suicide is always a sensitive and difficult topic, but it’s important we address it in the context of menopause. The heightened emotional vulnerability during this phase can contribute to suicidal thoughts and behaviours in some people; therefore, knowing how to spot signs of distress, for both those experiencing the feelings and those around them, is very important:
- Sleep issues: Sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless nights, can be early indicators. Disrupted sleep patterns can lead to fatigue and exacerbate emotional struggles.
- Losing interest in activities: A noticeable shift in interests or the loss of enjoyment in once enjoyable activities can signal depression. This symptom can contribute to feelings of emptiness and isolation.
- Low mood: Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or a general sense of low mood may become prevalent. These emotional changes can be challenging to manage and impact daily life.
- Feelings of worthlessness: A pervasive sense of worthlessness or self-doubt can erode self-esteem and self-confidence. This negative self-perception can intensify depressive feelings.
- Thoughts of suicide: In some cases, people experiencing perimenopausal or menopausal depression may have thoughts of suicide. These thoughts should never be taken lightly and require immediate intervention and support.
Support and resources
One of the most powerful ways we can assist women navigating the complexities of menopause and perimenopause is by encouraging and being part of open and empathetic conversations. Just as we advocate for open and honest conversations with our contacts at HOPELINE247 in relation to suicide, addressing taboo subjects such as menopause can lead to better symptom management.
You don’t have to navigate the challenges of menopause and mental health alone. There are several charities and organisations specifically designed for menopause-related issues, including: