Depressed mood, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating: we've become familiar with the list of symptoms that accompany depression. Almost 10 percent of Americans suffer from depression, and women are twice as likely as men to develop clinical depression in their lifetime.
As research relating to women and depression increases, many studies are uncovering a connection that links depression to menopause and, more specifically, perimenopause.
The evidence of a link may seem obvious. Several symptoms of depression overlap with symptoms commonly associated with perimenopause. Sleep trouble, hot flashes, anxiety, and trouble concentrating are all common in both depression and perimenopause.
But understanding the reason for the link is a bit more complicated. The most widely held theory is that the decline in estrogen levels that accompanies perimenopause is related to the onset of depression.
Another theory has to do with the effect of stress -- which often increases with the onset of menopause -- on hormonal balances in the body. Stress can change the effectiveness of neurotransmitters in the brain, which control vital levels of serotonin, the biochemical associated with maintaining positive mood. If serotonin levels are negatively affected by menopause-related stress, it's possible to develop depression.
There is also a connection between emotional changes during perimenopause that might be linked to depression. Because of the vast changes in women's bodies and minds, many women encounter unresolved emotional issues during this time. Revival of these issues may trigger feelings of helplessness which can contribute to depression.If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you don't have to chock it all up to "just menopause." Meeting with your doctor can help distinguish between symptoms of menopause, clinical depression, or a period of depressed mood. If you are diagnosed with clinical depression or a mood disorder, the course of treatment will most likely involve prescription antidepressants.Other treatment options are available to people with symptoms of depression. Hormone therapy, already used to treat menopause, can also have a positive effect on depression. A doctor can also offer a referral to a therapist who can address negative thoughts and behaviors to help you recover from depression.Personal changes can be used alongside professional treatment. Build yourself a system of support by enlisting help from family and friends in an effort reduce stress. Get ample rest and see a specialist to rule out sleep disorders like sleep apnea, which can disturb sleep and cause serious long-term health problems.Reevaluate your diet and exercise plan as well. An increase in activity coupled with a diet low in refined sugar and cholesterol can combat depressive symptoms. Alternative medicine and herbal remedies are currently being researched for effectiveness. Supplements like St. John's Wort have shown promising results.You don't need to suffer in silence. Talk to your doctor to assess your symptoms. Recovery may be right around the corner.