The influence of hormones on a woman’s emotional well-being is well-known. It should come as no surprise then that women are particularly vulnerable to mood changes in menopause.
The symptoms that may come with the menopause transition are varied and interconnected. While hot flashes and vaginal dryness may be expected, hormonal fluctuations can also impact sleep, energy, body composition, and libido. When these symptoms are accompanied by mood changes, it can be more difficult to cope with the impact menopause often has on emotional wellness, body image, self-confidence, and relationships.
There is a tendency to downplay the significance of mood-related menopause symptoms because menopause is a normal and expected stage of life for women. But health experts warn against ignoring emotional issues during this period of vulnerability. Fortunately, forward-thinking health care providers are increasingly in tune with the needs of women and able to offer better treatment options.
The Connection Between Hormones and Mood
The influence of hormones on mood is often first evident in adolescence, when ovarian hormones are believed to interact with neurotransmitters that impact mood, behavior, and cognitive function. This leads to unique vulnerabilities throughout your reproductive years, both in terms of transient mood symptoms and mood and anxiety disorders:
- From puberty onward, depression becomes twice as prevalent in females as in males.
- Premenstrual syndrome affects over 90% of women at some point in their lifetime and may cause transient but severe symptoms of anxiety, depression, and irritability.
- Premenstrual dysmorphic disorder affects approximately 3-8% of women, causing severe symptoms that interfere with everyday functionality.
- Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are the #1 complication of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting an estimated 20-25% of women.
However, many women experience the most significant hormonal impact on mood as the reproductive years begin to dwindle. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) has described perimenopause, including the early and late menopause transition stages and the early postmenopause period, as “a window of vulnerability for the development of both depressive symptoms and major depressive episodes.”
- New diagnoses of depressive and anxiety disorders are common during this time.
- Women with a history of depression are up to 5 times more likely to experience a major depressive disorder during this time.
- Perimenopause and early postmenopause are associated with more severe mood symptoms in women with bipolar disorder.
Of course, not all mood changes in menopause and perimenopause are symptoms of a mental health disorder. Likewise, not all are the direct result of hormones; loss of fertility, aging, and physical menopause symptoms can all have a profound effect on your psychological well-being. But all symptoms should be taken seriously.
Addressing Mood Changes in Menopause
Mood changes in menopause can be deeply distressing. Even relatively mild disturbances can impact your sense of self, your work, and your most intimate relationships. Getting the right support to buoy you through this time is essential for preserving your quality of life. What that support looks like will vary from person to person, but options include:
While these approaches are considered the best ways to address mood changes in menopause, some women also incorporate exercise, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and peer support in their treatment plans.
The menopause transition is a time of unique psychological vulnerability. Those who experience mood disturbances or anxiety for the first time may be unsure of where to turn for help as they navigate unfamiliar emotions. Women who have had existing mental health diagnoses may require additional support and new treatment strategies.
Increasing awareness of the complex connections between hormones and mood changes in menopause has led to better screening, more effective treatment, and more personalized care. However, since each woman‘s menopausal journey is unique, finding a knowledgeable and compassionate doctor is essential. The right doctor will address both your physical and emotional concerns, develop a personalized treatment plan, and can collaborate with your existing supports to help you thrive.