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Depression FAQs

Depression can negatively affect a woman's life in a number of ways. She may lose interest in activities she once loved or feel as though she's in a tunnel with no light at the end. Because depression can be so impactful, she likely has many questions about her depression. Read below for a list of frequently asked questions about depression and their answers.

Q: What Is Depression?

A: Depression refers to a mental state characterized by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy, feelings of sadness, and a despondent lack of activity.

However, depression is also a clinical disorder that is more severe than bouts of sadness and requires certain symptoms to be diagnosed. Clinical depression is a serious mental illness characterized by more than two weeks of extremely low moods that affect how a person feels, the way she thinks, and her activities.

Q: Is Depression Normal When Going Through Menopause?

A: Depression is common during menopause, affecting up to 30% of menopausal women. Women preparing to enter menopause are two to four times more likely to fall into depression than women who are not yet at that stage in life. However, this does not mean that depression should just be brushed off as an "inevitable part of menopause".

Q: Who Is Most Likely to Be Affected by Depression?

A: Not only are menopausal women more likely to suffer from depression, but women in general are twice as likely to experience depression as men. Several other factors can add to an individual's likelihood of being depressed, such as brain chemistry, history of depression, and personality.

Q: What Are the Types of Depression?

A: There are several types of depression. Some are more likely to occur in women leading up to menopause than other types, such as major depression and adjustment disorder. Post-partum depression, for instance, is not associated with menopause, nor is psychotic depression. Below is a list describing the different types of depression.

Major depression.This prevalent type lasts for more than two weeks and is characterized by intense feelings of sadness, loss of interest in normal activities, withdrawal from friends and family, and negative thoughts. These episodes can occur once or multiple times in a person's life. This is a common type during menopause.

Dysthymic disorder. Also called persistent depression, this is a less intense type of depression than major depression, but it continues for a longer period of time, generally two years or more.

Adjustment disorders. This may occur when an individual's response to a stressful event or situation causes signs and symptoms of depression. It can be acute - lasting less than six months - or chronic.

Manic depression (bipolar disorder). This psychological disorder causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe.

Psychotic depression. This type includes some features of psychosis, such as hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there) or delusions (irrational thoughts and fears).

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This type of depression typically comes on in the winter months when the sun is sparse. SAD can be associated with menopause.

Post-partum depression. This is depression that occurs after a woman has given birth.

Q: What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

A: The symptoms of depression can be separated into three categories: physical, emotional, and behavioral. In order for a person to be diagnosed with clinical depression, at least five of the below symptoms must be present for not less than two weeks. However, at least one of those symptoms must be persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest or pleasure.

Physical symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Decreased energy
  • Overeating
  • Appetite loss
  • Insomnia
  • Early-morning wakefulness
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Persistent aches or pains
  • Headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

Emotional symptoms

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

Behavioral symptoms

  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, which includes sex
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering details
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Failing to attend to one's physical appearance

Q: What Are the Warning Signs of Suicide?

A: Because suicide can be associated with severe depression, it's important to know the warning signs. However, it is also necessary to remember that just because someone fits some of the below characteristics does not necessarily mean she is suicidal. Here is a list of some of the warning signs of suicide to look out for that could be an indication that an individual is considering taking her own life:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
  • Violent actions, rebellious behavior, and running away
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance
  • Marked personality change
  • Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of work
  • Frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often relating to emotions, such as stomach aches, headaches, and fatigue
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Not tolerating praise or rewards

Q: What Causes Depression during Menopause?

A: As women approach menopause, their hormone levels begin to fluctuate more drastically and eventually reach low levels. This decrease in hormones, especially estrogen production, has myriad effects on a woman's body and mind, but is often the underlying cause of depression experienced during this period of time.

There are multiple reasons why decreased levels of estrogen in a woman's body can cause depression, but each reason has to do either with how estrogen affects the brain or how low levels of estrogen prompt other symptoms that can then lead to depression.

Q: What Is the Best Way to Cope with Depression during Menopause?

A: The best way to deal with menopause-related depression symptoms is to correct the hormonal imbalance that's causing them, preferably through alternative treatments, such as herbal supplements. In the meantime, several easy lifestyle changes can also help to relieve mild depression, like getting improved sleep, exercise, and diet, engaging in relaxing activities, reconnecting with old friends, and talking to a therapist or support group. The last resort is to use medications, such as antidepressants.

Q: Do Antidepressants Cause Side Effects?

A: Different medications produce different side effects, and people differ in the type and severity of the side effects they experience. About 50% of people who take antidepressant medications experience some side effects, particularly during the first weeks of treatment. Some of the side effects associated with antidepressants include dry mouth, constipation, bladder problems, sexual problems, blurred vision, dizziness, drowsiness, skin rash, and weight gain or loss, nausea, nervousness, insomnia, diarrhea, and agitation, among others. There is no "one size fits all" treatment, so the dosage or type of antidepressant may need to be adjusted to eliminate side effects.

How Can Treatment Be Approached?

Three approaches can be considered for treating depression: (1) lifestyle changes, (2) alternative medicine, and (3) medications and therapy. Most experts recommend that women begin with the least aggressive approach and move to the next level of treatment only if symptoms persist. Click on treatments for depression to discover the best route to relief.

Poor Diet and Depression: Are They Linked?

Depression is a distressing illness, often having a highly negative effect on everyday life, leading some people to seek solutions. Some try to improve their diet, believing that diet and depression are linked. But does a poor diet really cause depression? This article addresses this very question, taking into account the current evidence.

Middle-Aged Women and Depression

Depression is an illness that often develops in middle-aged women and can affect all aspects of life. Depression is more likely to strike at this age due to hormonal fluctuations that occur during menopause. If you are suffering from low mood, change in appetite, and loss of libido, you should consult your doctor.

Sources:
  • Amin, Z. , Canli, T. & Epperson, C.N. (2005). Effects of Estrogen-Serotonin Interactions on Mood and Cognition. Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 4(1), 43-58. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15886402
  • Freeman, E.W. (2010). Associations of depression with the transition to menopause. Menopause, 17(4), 823-827. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3181db9f8b
  • Graziottin, A. & Serafini, A. (2009). Depression and the menopause: why antidepressants are not enough? Menopause International, 15(2), 76-81. doi: 10.1258/mi.2009.009021.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Depression. Retrieved May 9, 2016, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml
  • Office on Women's Health. (2010). Menopause and mental health. Retrieved May 9, 2016, from http://womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-mental-health/