Menopause and mental health: is there a connection?

Can a woman’s menopause symptoms affect her mental health?

Every woman experiences menopause differently. Some sail through, but others can experience a range of symptoms – which can be physical or psychological. While many are expecting the much-mentioned hot flushes, the psychological symptoms can sometimes come as a shock

In fact, one in four women with menopause symptoms are concerned about their ability to cope with life. This can have huge implications for them, both at home and at work.

Research carried out by Nuffield Health found that almost half of the women surveyed said they felt depressed, and more than a third suffered from anxiety. Alarming figures. But despite this, more than two thirds of women in the UK still say there is a general lack of support or advice for those going through menopause. Even more alarming.

Working women often feel they have no option but to take long-term sick leave, or even consider leaving their jobs altogether. Which is incredibly sad when, given the right information and advice, they can make more informed decisions about how to manage their menopause.

Why can women experience mental health issues during menopause?

On average women experience menopause at 51, but symptoms can start years earlier, in a stage known as perimenopause. Here, our hormone levels start to change, and we produce less of our reproductive hormones. Some women compare this to a rollercoaster, as hormone levels rise and fall quite dramatically.

Eventually, these hormones settle at a much lower level than during our fertile years.

Let’s not underestimate this stage of a woman’s life. Often referred to as ‘the sandwich generation’ many menopausal women have ageing parents, teenagers living at home, as well as grandchildren and caring responsibilities for them. At the same time, they’re often trying to juggle a career.

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So it’s hardly surprising that 62% women say their menopausal symptoms are either causing them to behave differently or are having a detrimental effect on their lives.

Some of the psychological and emotional symptoms of menopause include:

  • Low mood
  • Irritability
  • Increased anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Low self esteem
  • Memory problems – sometimes referred to as brain fog.

What impact could these symptoms have in the workplace?

Add long hours, workplace stress and workload, stressful commutes and financial commitments into the mix of commitments menopausal women are trying to balance and you have a hotbed of stressors which could tip a woman over the edge.

The impact of menopause on the workplace is important for all of us to understand. A large majority of female workers say they feel unsupported at work, at a time when their symptoms are having a direct impact on both their wellbeing and performance. In fact, anxiety and worry, along with focus and concentration, are among the top five symptoms women say have the biggest impact for them at work.

Dr Annie Evans, menopause specialist at Nuffield Health Bristol says: “Menopause is a condition which is often sidelined as just a fact of life, and not something to be taken seriously, but for many women the symptoms are extreme and can have a devastating impact on their life. Many feel anxious, confused, depressed and exhausted to the point where they are struggling to cope with daily routine.”

It can be hard for employers to understand how to support those suffering from menopausal symptoms, which is why the right training and support is so important. Many women suffer in silence, either because they lack the confidence to speak up, or feel afraid of not being taken seriously. Some are even worried that they might even lose their jobs.

How can you manage these psychological and emotional symptoms?

Talk to your doctor

NICE (National Institute for Health Care Excellence) guidelines recognise the psychological symptoms of menopause. However, they highlight that there’s no clear evidence that antidepressants will ease low mood in menopausal women who have not been diagnosed with depression. But they do have some recommendations about other ways to alleviate low mood, including HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

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Female doctor with stethoscope writing "Ask your doctor"" . Hand holding pen isolated on white. Medical background.It’s important to visit your GP to discuss your treatment options. Appointments can be short, so keep a diary of your symptoms beforehand, and research some menopause management options so you can discuss which approach you’d like to take.

Visit a medical herbalist

Complementary and herbal products are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs, so if this is your chosen route to manage your symptoms, it’s still important to discuss these with your GP.  It’s also best to consult a qualified herbalist or nutritionist if you’d like to find out more about using herbs to treat menopause.

Look at your lifestyle

Leading a healthy lifestyle is important for all stages of life. Regular exercise has lots of health benefits, and also releases endorphins which create a general feeling of wellbeing.

It’s not always easy to see the link between how we feel and what we eat, but nutrition and diet play a significant role during menopause. It is well worth looking at whether a few simple changes here might make all the difference.

Take time to relax

Managing stress is particularly important at any time of life and becomes even more so during menopause. Stress is the main cause of major health issues including depression, so it’s worth investing some time in finding out how best to manage and reduce it. Yoga and mediation can be good ways to help you relax.

Above all, it’s important to understand we can usually manage menopausal symptoms and you don’t just need to put up with them.

What to do if you feel that menopause symptoms are affecting someone you know, live or work with?

Talking about how we’re feeling at any stage of life can have huge benefits. It can literally turn a woman’s life around when she shares how she’s feeling, how her symptoms are affecting her. If you’re a friend or family member, start with a virtual coffee and a chat, and suggest they visit their GP. But sometimes just being sounding board can make all the difference. We all like to know someone cares.

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Making mental health matter

So, in answer to our question “can a woman’s menopausal symptoms affect her mental health?” the answer is yes they can.

This week, during Mental Health Week, let’s all remember the importance of being kind.

Because for women suffering from menopausal symptoms, a little kindness really does go a long way.

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