Menopause occurs when there is a natural decline in the reproductive hormones during the middle stages (the 40s or 50s) of a menstruator’s life. It is the end of a person’s menstrual cycle, and they might experience various symptoms before and after they stop having their periods.
People with ovaries are born with eggs stored in the ovary. It also produces hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which further controls menstruation and the release of eggs (known as ovulation). Menstruation stops when the ovaries stop releasing eggs every month, signaling the start of menopause.
Menopause usually happens after the age of 40, and it is a regular part of aging. Sometimes, menopause can happen early due to surgery, hysterectomy, or chemotherapy. In these cases, it’s called premature menopause (when it occurs before age 40).
Common symptoms of menopause are vaginal dryness, disturbances in hormone levels, and hot flashes. A decline in estrogen levels during this phase can make the person feel like they’re in an unavoidable state of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) every day.
Emotional changes and mood swings are also part of menopause, some of which include: depression, anxiety, lack of motivation, irritability, fatigue, stress, and tension, as well as mood changes.
These changes can make the person feel irritable and helpless. Research shows that almost 20 percent of people who have reached menopause have depression during this time. Menstruators are more likely to experience panic attacks and anxiety before, during, and after the menopausal transition.
Changes in lifestyle and physical and mental health during menopause can also trigger mood changes. For example, overactive thyroid glands can trigger anxiety and lead to a lack of sleep and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms make it more difficult for menstruators to get appropriate rest.
What happens during menopause?
There are three stages of menopause:
1) Perimenopause – It begins many years before menopause, and the ovaries produce less and less estrogen. The phase lasts until menopause and ends when the ovaries stop releasing eggs. During the last stages of this phase, estrogen levels fall fast, and the individual may start developing menopause symptoms.
2) Menopause – It is during this stage that menstruation stops completely. The ovaries stop releasing eggs, and various bodily and hormone changes begin to manifest.
3) Post menopause – The years after menopause is known as postmenopause. The symptoms start reducing at this stage, but health risks related to loss of estrogen may still be prevalent.
Mental health issues associated with the stages of menopause
Menopause causes many physical symptoms like tiredness, insomnia, hot flashes, memory loss, and tension, all of which can hinder day-to-day activities.
Research shows that women are two to four times more likely to develop mental health issues like major depressive disorder or stress-related disorders during menopause than at any other time in their lives. Other conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia also aggravate during this time.
Premenstrual syndrome is commonly experienced by all menstruators, but it is further triggered during menopause. It is also called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). PMDD is a severe type of PMS and affects more than 5 to 10 percent of menstruators during their reproductive years.
PMDD can cause significant mood disturbances and can have a severe impact on social and personal functioning. People with PMDD are at a higher risk of developing clinical depression or anxiety during or before every menstrual cycle. Although periods stop during menopause, these symptoms still affect the individual.
Research shows links between depression and menopause. Women who had symptoms of PMS or PMDD before menopause are more likely to experience postpartum depression and mood swings. People with pre-existing mental health conditions like clinical depression are also primarily affected as their symptoms are triggered by hormonal changes.
Links between bipolar disorder and menopause are also common. Menstruators with bipolar disorder are more prone to experience hormonal changes during menopause. Moreover, women with bipolar disorder have also reported having more depressive episodes during menopause. These changes are linked with a decrease in hormones like estrogen.
Lastly, the reduction of estrogen can also trigger other psychotic conditions. Women with pre-existing chronic schizophrenia usually experience a decrease in the intensity of their illness, but they also require more medications to manage the symptoms. Although schizophrenia begins in childhood or young adulthood, a second peak is noticed in menstruators during menopause.
Other than the physical and mental aspects of menopause, it predominantly affects the lives of menstruators in various dimensions. It is common to feel helpless and burdened with these stressors. Some common problems they encounter are difficulty in maintaining romantic or interpersonal relationships, empty nest syndrome, difficulty in making significant life changes like a shift in the career, concerns about aging people in the household, anxiety over re-defining life goals and expectations, worrying about partner’s or children’s mental health, and the like.
Symptoms of menopause can also cause chronic pain. Pain is a biological complication that occurs when the nerve impulses constantly alert the brain about damage in the body. However, this physical condition strongly ties in with social and psychological factors. These complex factors determine the menstruator’s mental energy and might also affect their social activities.
These symptoms trigger negative emotions and make it hard for the individual to take care of their well-being. It is necessary to consult a medical professional who can address the issue and treat it from a medical and psychological standpoint.
The doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and therapy. The first step would usually be to strike out other physical reasons for symptoms that can occur due to conditions like thyroid.
Coping with life and physical changes can take a toll on the body and mind of a menstruator. However, mental health issues during menopause are treatable. It is vital to remember that there are several treatment options or therapy techniques to help manage symptoms. The most crucial thing is to be informed about such changes, and converse with peers and professionals so that help can be availed.