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The link between menopause and mental health

October 16, 2023
Anthea Wells

Menopause affects 51% of the population, but those affected by it often shy away from talking about it. World Menopause Day - which is hosted by the International Menopause Society and takes place on the 18th October - aims to change this by encouraging women to open up and share their experiences of menopause.  

The more women are talking about menopause, the more awareness there is of how it can impact your life, which means less stigma and more of those affected by it reaching out for support. To find out more about how you can get involved with the campaign, visit the International Menopause Society’s website.  

What is menopause?

Menopause is a biological process that usually happens as you age. There’s a decline in your ovarian function and you produce less reproductive hormones, like oestrogen and progesterone. This means that you stop having periods and can no longer get pregnant naturally. The average age that a woman experiences menopause is between 45 and 50, but it may happen sooner or later than this.

Menopause can happen naturally, or for reasons such as surgery to remove the ovaries (oophorectomy) or the uterus (hysterectomy), cancer treatments like chemotherapy, or a genetic reason. Sometimes the reason is unknown.

The menopause transition can be a gradual process; the time before you enter the menopause is called perimenopause. During perimenopause, you might notice some symptoms, like changes to your menstrual cycle or hot flushes. When you haven’t had a period for 12 months or more, this is classed as menopause.

Symptoms of menopause:

Physical symptoms:

  • Hot flushes – short, sudden bursts of heat that can leave your skin sweaty and red
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness or pain
  • Bladder infections
  • Low libido
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Irregular periods
  • Exhaustion - muscle aches and pains
  • Acne and other skin problems, such as dryness and itching
  • Dry eyes
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Loss of bone density  
  • Body shape changes and weight gain
  • Change to your cholesterol levels
  • Palpitations where your heartbeat is more noticeable

Psychological symptoms:  

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Anger and irritability
  • Brain fog, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of self-esteem and confidence
  • Low mood and feelings of sadness or depression

How can menopause impact your mental health?

Although more research needs to be done, it’s thought that the hormonal changes that take place during menopause can have an impact on your mood, which can affect your mental health.

A study by Nuffield Health found that it’s common to experience mental health issues during menopause, with 47% of menopausal women saying that they felt depressed and 37% saying that they suffer from anxiety. In total, 62% of those surveyed said that they were experiencing hormonal changes or menopause symptoms which resulted in them behaving differently. These changes can have a big impact on your life, including relationships and work.

However, it’s worth mentioning that menopause isn’t necessarily solely to blame for these mental health struggles. The age that people usually experience menopause (in their 50s) is a common age for other stressors, such as adolescent children, career demands and ageing parents. It’s possible that the symptoms of menopause can exacerbate an already stressful situation.  

Not only can hormonal changes affect your mental health, how you feel about the menopause can take its toll, too. Ultimately, menopause is a sign of our bodies ageing, so in cultures where youthfulness is celebrated, this can be confronting and you might experience lower self-esteem or a lack of confidence as a result. We’ve written some tips on how to boost your self-esteem here.

Menopause and sleep issues

Sleep problems are another symptom that some people experience when going through menopause. Getting enough sleep is so important when it comes to taking care of your mental wellbeing; if you’re sleeping badly, you can become irritable, more easily upset and find it hard to focus. A lack of sleep over an extended period can contribute to poor mental health. Read more about this and find tips for better sleep hygiene here.

How to take care of your mental health  

  1. Follow a healthy routine

It may not sound groundbreaking, but sticking to a routine of healthy habits can support your mental health. Routine can provide structure to your day and help you to be more organised, which reduces stress. Within your routine, you should include getting enough sleep, spending time outside, eating healthy meals, exercising regularly (weight-bearing exercises are good if you’re experiencing menopause due to cardiovascular benefits) and getting up at a fixed time.  

  1. Make time to de-stress

If feelings of stress aren’t dealt with, they can pile up, so it’s important to make time to de-stress in order to lighten the load. There are lots of ways you can de-stress, from exercising to spending time in nature or simply doing something you enjoy, like watching your favourite TV show. Anything that gives you a break from uncomfortable feelings and allows you to focus on something positive will help. Read more about how to manage stress here.

  1. Talk about your experience feelings

When you’re going through a tough time, opening up to someone and talking about how you feel can help you to process and make sense of your thoughts. Awareness days like World Menopause Day are a great opportunity to start important conversations that you might not usually have.

  1. Speak to a professional

If you think your mental health is becoming unmanageable, it might be time to seek help from a professional. You can start by going to your GP, who might suggest medication or hormone replacement therapy (HRT).  It’s thought to be important to talk about this early on, during the perimenopause, and consider whether or not this is right for you. Your GP may also suggest talking therapy. Not sure whether you need therapy? This article might help.

At ieso, we offer online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for a range of mental health issues. Patients can login from wherever they are and ‘speak’ with a therapist by typing back and forth. Our service is designed with flexibility in mind and appointments can be made in the daytime and evening. Visit our website to find out how it works.  

Useful links:

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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