It’s important to understand that menopause is a not a disability or disease – physical, mental or otherwise. It’s a natural biological process that all individuals born with a female reproductive system will experience. During menopause transition our fluctuating hormones can affect our mood and leave us feeling irritable, agitated, anxiety-ridden or depressed. The stress associated with other perimenopausal symptoms like sleep disturbance and hot flashes can amplify these feelings.
While there’s ongoing debate in the medical community about whether or not menopause actually causes depression, a 2019 progress report from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN) found that women in perimenopause and early post-menopause are two to four times more likely to experience major depression. The report also found that a medical or family history of major depression or other mood disorders indicated a strong likelihood of major depression during menopause transition.
Started in 1994, the SWAN is a U.S.-based longitudinal multiracial, multiethnic cohort study of women ages 42-52. A research review of 25 years of SWAN data published earlier this year, found that Black women reach menopause several months earlier than White women and have worse symptoms including depression and sleep disturbances. According to the analysis, we are also less likely to receive hormone therapy or seek out medical and mental health services like therapy or antidepressants. This means that many of us are likely suffering through our symptoms when there are treatment options that can help.
As I write this, it's been a little over three weeks since I started my prescription of a low-dose SSRI. As with most of these drugs, it can take up to three or more weeks to kick in. After about 12 days, I woke up without a feeling of dread, which thankfully, has been the case for most of my mornings since. I still have moments when I feel the anxiety ramping up, but the overwhelm of panic and doom has abated and I’m able to calm my mind and de-escalate my spiral.
I don't know how long I'll take the antidepressants, but it's where I'm at for now and I'm glad I was able to get the help I needed.