Most women expect to experience the effects of hormonal changes when they come to menopause and many anticipate increased irritability and mood swings. But mood swings that can be just an annoyance for some women can develop into something more serious for others.
Menopause usually begins around the age of 50, when the body’s production of oestrogen and progesterone slows. This can leads to a range of effects such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, breast tenderness and trouble sleeping. These symptoms can last around five years.
Menopausal hormone fluctuations can have a significant impact on women’s mental health, with some women more vulnerable to these changes than others. These mental health problems require specific treatment and support.
Depression and anxiety
Women are two to four times more likely to have an episode of major depression during menopause than at other times in their lives.
Although some women can have an episode of depression for the first time during menopause, women with a history of recurrent depression are up to 4.5 times more likely to experience another episode of depression at the start of menopause than other women at this stage of life.
Anxiety disorders (generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder) are the most common of the mental health problems, with around 25% of the population experiencing one in the last 12 months.
But despite anxiety symptoms and panic attacks being commonly reported during menopause, little is known about their link with menopause.
Oestrogen has a protective effect against psychotic symptoms for women, due to its modulating effect on the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Excess dopamine is one of the neurological changes seen in patients with schizophrenia, a mental illness that causes episodes of delusions and hallucinations.
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