Understanding Perimenopause & its Impact on Women's Mental Health

By: WE Staff

Perimenopause, the transitional period before menopause is a challenging period where women face several changes, and health issues and witness developing irritations and depression cycle. In order to combat such conditions, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the key solution.

Recently, entrepreneur and popular ‘shark’ Namita Thapar shed light on a health challenge that several women struggle with, i.e. perimenopause. While on an episode of Shark Tank, the Executive Director of Emcure Pharmaceuticals opened up about her personal experience of dealing with perimenopause challenges, revealing the discomfort and struggles she faced. Namita faced health hazards including heavy bleeding and severe anemia due to hormonal changes with hemoglobin levels dropping to 8 (g/dl).

Namita’s conversation also sheds light on the fact that perimenopause is rarely spoken about as are various other health needs specific to women. Women often juggle multiple roles in their lives, from career pursuits to caregiving responsibilities. Still, amid these demands, women face unique health challenges, including reproductive health issues, chronic conditions, and mental health disorders. These conditions are hardly spoken about making it tougher for women to deal with them.

A recent research highlighted the link between perimenopause and an increased risk of depression, as hormonal fluctuations impact mood regulation. Having a better understanding of these conditions is crucial for early intervention and support.

This thought was seconded by Namita who emphasized the importance of women taking control of their health during perimenopause, emphasizing the need for increased awareness about symptoms and treatment options. On Namita's much-needed talk about women's igniting health issues, she received praise from all across the Internet.

Heeding Namita’s advice, let’s demystify perimenopause and understand the findings of the recent research about perimenopause’s connection with mental health challenges.

What is Perimenopause?

Perimenopause means "around menopause". It is the transitional period before menopause that is characterized by natural changes and symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, mood swings, breast tenderness, altered blood cholesterol, and low bone density.

The condition can last from a few months to 10 years before menopause. Perimenopause symptoms are caused by naturally occurring estrogen fluctuations, leading to symptoms like menorrhagia. Diagnosis involves a hormone test, however, it can be alleviated through a healthy diet, including calcium-rich foods, red meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and enriched grain products. Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and avoiding high-fat, sugary, and salty foods can improve overall health. Along with these, self-care, good sleep, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol, and practicing relaxation techniques, can also help manage symptoms.

40% of Women face Perimenopausal Depression

A meta-analysis conducted by the University College London (UCL) sheds light on the increase of risk in women's mental health. The study mentions that 40 per cent of women suffer from depression during the perimenopause cycle. The findings were collected from seven studies with 9,141 women from various countries including Australia, the U.S., China, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The results which were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, showed that 40 per cent of women during their perimenopausal stage are diagnosed with depression and showed depressed symptoms compared to premenopausal women. "Clinical need for screening and support in this potentially vulnerable group" is highlighted in the finding. Notably, women during their postmenopausal stage have not shown any apparent rise in the risk of depression when compared to premenopausal women.

Roopa Desai, Senior Author of UCL's Psychology & Language Sciences mentioned, "This study shows that women in the perimenopausal stage are significantly more likely to experience depression than either before or after this stage." She added, "Our findings emphasize the importance of acknowledging that women in this life stage are more vulnerable to experiencing depression. It also underlines the need to provide support and screening for women to help address their mental health needs effectively."

Researchers have discovered that mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective during this stage. Estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate during perimenopause, which lasts three to five years before menopause begins. During these years, women tend to face frequent mood changes, irregular menstrual cycles, and increased depression, typically lasting one year after a woman's last period.

Perimenopausal depression is a complex condition due to its overlap with common menopausal symptoms that complicate diagnosis and treatment. Healthcare providers advocate for a holistic approach, that includes hormone therapy, antidepressant medications, and psychotherapy in order to improve women's well-being. Raising awareness about menopause and mental health is also a significant factor in empowering women and promoting open dialogue, along with providing tailored resources to help them navigate the transformation phase.