How Menopause Can Affect Our Mental Health

Menopause is part of growing older for many people. It’s a natural part of life – but that doesn’t mean that it’s always straightforward. Menopause can affect both our physical and mental health. We’re more likely to find that it affects our mental health if we’ve had mental health issues earlier on in life.

How Menopause Can Affect Our Mental Health

Menopause Doesn’t Just Affect The Person Going Through It

Menopause doesn’t just affect the person experiencing it. It can also affect our family, friends, and others who are living with us.

If we have a partner, we might find that our restless, hot, disturbed nights wake them up too. We might have been planning on having children later on in life, and then experience early menopause meaning that we’re unable to have children. Our tolerance can be lower and we can become increasingly irritable which can affect anyone spending time with us.

It’s important that we try and talk to those close to us about what we’re going through. Menopause can create big changes in our lives and talking about it to our loved ones can help us to make some sense of it. It can also enable them to have a better understanding of what’s currently going on for us.

We’re Not ‘On The Scrap Heap’

Something that many of us feel when going through the menopause is that we’re now ‘past it’. We’re effectively resigned to the scrap heap. Our younger days have past and we’re now a burden.

This is not true. People go through menopause at different ages and these days people are living longer, healthier lives than we have done in the past.

All the menopause means is that our body is going through a natural change. It is not a reflection on us as a person or on our ‘usefulness’ to society. If we’re beginning to think or worry about these things then it could be helpful to talk it through with someone.

Menopause Symptoms

Menopause can come with a range of symptoms. The duration and severity of these symptoms will vary from person to person.

Symptoms usually start a few months or years before our periods stop and can continue for some time afterwards. On average, they last about four years from our last period, but one in 10 people can experience symptoms for up to 12 years.

The very first sign of menopause is usually a change in our periods. They may become lighter or heavier and change in frequency. Eventually, they’ll stop altogether.

Other common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, sleeping difficulties, a reduced libido, memory and concentration problems, vaginal dryness and pain including itching or discomfort during sex, headaches, mood changes, palpitations, stiffness, aches and pains, reduced muscle mass and recurrent urinary tract infections. Our risk of developing other problems such as osteoporosis can be increased, too.

We might think that everything we experience is ‘just part of menopause’ and that ‘everyone who has periods goes through it’, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve support with it. Whether our symptoms are ‘normal’ or not, if they’re having a big impact on our lives or we’re struggling to cope with them then we can speak to our GP about it. Additionally, if we’re finding our partner’s or family member’s menopausal symptoms difficult to cope with, we can reach out for support too.

Our Hormones Change

When we go through menopause, we experience a decline in oestrogen and progesterone hormones. This can result in increased levels of anxiety, mood swings, irritability and risk of depression. The risk of depression is further increased if we’ve previously experienced depression or post-natal depression.

Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbance can be a symptom of menopause. Night sweats can increase the number of times we wake up once we’ve gone to sleep which can stop us from feeling rested when we wake up in the morning. The potential increase in low mood and anxiety during menopause can also affect our sleep.

Poor quality sleep can affect our mood. It can leave us feeling low and tearful. We might feel more irritable than normal and snap at those we live with. It can feel much harder to cope with things when we’re tired as opposed to when we’re well-rested.

Our sleep disturbances can also affect our partner. If we share a bed then we might wake them up when we wake up (or when we throw our duvet off in our sleep). If we get up when we wake up in the night then other people in our house might hear us. All these things can affect the sleep quality of those who live with us. Additionally, if we’re more irritable or are finding things harder to cope with then this can affect those close to us, too.

That’s not to say that we should feel guilty about having sleepless nights. It’s not our fault if our body decides to sweat or wakes us up during the night. If it reaches the point where it’s having a significant impact on our life, whether we’re the person going through menopause or someone close to them, then there is absolutely no shame in reaching out for some support.

Risk Of Depression And Anxiety Can Increase

Menopause can come with an increased risk of developing anxiety and low mood.

If we’re going through menopause, as our body works to adjust to decreased levels of oestrogen and progesterone our mood can suffer, we can feel irritable and stressed, and we may feel more anxious. The lack of sleep, reduced libido, headaches and other symptoms that we might also experience can affect our mood and our levels of anxiety, too. The time of life when many people experience menopause is a time when we might be having significant life changes, too. Our children might be growing up and leaving home, we might need to downsize our house, we could be caring for elderly relatives or experiencing bereavement. All of these things can affect how we feel.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Hormone Replacement Therapy is a medication that can be prescribed to help with the symptoms of menopause including hot flushes and night sweats. It can help to regulate hormone levels and studies have shown that this could help with the risk of low mood. However, it’s not without side effects and it’s not advisable for everyone such as those who have had or are at risk of having certain types of breast cancer.

Coping With Symptoms

Menopause can throw up a lot of difficult thoughts and emotions. Talking about these can help, especially if we’re in a relationship and find that the symptoms we’re experiencing are coming between us. If talking isn’t something we’re comfortable with, we could also try writing, drawing, or expressing our thoughts and feelings down through music.

If we’re able to, gentle exercise can help with some menopause symptoms including low mood.

Drinking cold water, wearing layers so that we can take one off if needs be, reducing our caffeine intake, cooling the room we’re in, cutting down on alcohol and having cooler showers are all things that can help with hot flushes.

If we’re struggling with our sleep then we could tighten up on our sleep hygiene, keep a cold drink next to our bed, and use a lighter duvet.

For those of us who have vaginal pain, itching, or discomfort then we could speak to our chemist or GP about lubricants or moisturisers.

With headaches, we need to make sure that we’re drinking enough water, try to reduce our stress levels, take painkillers as prescribed and exercise if we can.

If we develop memory and concentration problems then we could try writing things down and trying to plan our day so that we have regular breaks meaning that we only have to concentrate for short periods of time.

In terms of low mood and anxiety there are lots of different treatment options. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is often offered, but if this doesn’t work for us then there are other options – we need to speak to our GP about what is available in our area.

With all of our symptoms, prioritising our self-care can help, too.

If any of our symptoms are having a significant impact on our life, or we’re concerned about anything at all whether we’re the one going through menopause or we’re close to someone who’s going through it, then it could be helpful speak to our GP or another support service about our worries.

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