What's the connection between menopause and mental health?

For many women, menopause is a time of significant physical, emotional and social change. As a therapist, I have had the privilege to walk alongside countless women navigating this complex journey. Yet, despite the profound impact menopause can have on mental health, there is a surprising and concerning gap in research and understanding of this intersection. This void has implications not just for individual women, but for society as a whole.


Why is the menopause-mental health link under-researched?

The limited focus on menopause and mental health is, in part, a reflection of broader societal patterns that have historically marginalised women's health issues. These factors have contributed to the oversight:

Societal taboos

Conversations about menopause, like many aspects of women's health, have often been shrouded in secrecy or discomfort. This silence can stigmatise and isolate women, leaving them uninformed about the psychological challenges they might face.

Generalisation of mental health symptoms

Women experiencing depression, anxiety or other psychological disturbances during menopause might be told that it's 'just a phase' or simply a natural part of ageing. Such dismissiveness prevents a deeper exploration of the underlying causes and exacerbates feelings of isolation.

The relationship between menopause and the onset of mental health challenges is multifaceted. While not every woman will experience mental health struggles during menopause, many can encounter such challenges for the first time during this transition. 

Hormonal changes

Menopause marks the end of a woman's reproductive years and is characterised by significant hormonal changes, especially a decline in oestrogen levels. Oestrogen has been shown to affect mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin. The fluctuations and eventual decrease in oestrogen can lead to mood swings, depression, anxiety and irritability.

Physical symptoms

The array of physical symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances and fatigue, can be distressing. Sleep disruption, in particular, can have a direct impact on mood and cognitive function.

Life transitions

Menopause typically occurs during midlife, a period when many women are also experiencing other significant life changes. These might include children leaving home, the loss of parents or loved ones, career transitions, or facing one's own ageing and mortality. These concurrent transitions can contribute to feelings of loss, identity shifts and existential reflections, all of which can affect mental health.

Pre-existing vulnerabilities

Women who have had previous episodes of depression or anxiety may find that they are more susceptible to these conditions during menopause. Additionally, if a woman has faced traumatic experiences earlier in life, the emotional and hormonal shifts of menopause might trigger or exacerbate trauma-related symptoms.

Cognitive changes

Some women report difficulties with memory or concentration during menopause. These cognitive changes, though typically mild and temporary, can cause distress and worry about potential long-term implications.

It's essential to remember that while menopause can act as a catalyst, it does not 'cause' mental health issues in a direct, singular fashion. Instead, it's the combination of biological, psychological and social factors during this transition that can converge, making some women more susceptible to mental health challenges. Recognising this interplay can lead to more effective and compassionate support and treatment.

The imperative role of therapists and support systems

For women navigating menopause, understanding the link between their physiological changes and mental health is crucial. Here's why therapists and support systems play a pivotal role:

  • Validation and understanding: A therapist can offer validation, helping women understand that what they're experiencing is real, significant and deserving of attention.
  • Holistic treatment: With an awareness of the menopause-mental health connection, therapists can devise strategies that address both hormonal and emotional challenges.
  • Education: Therapists can equip women with information about menopause, helping them anticipate, understand and navigate potential mental health challenges.
  • Building resilience: Through therapy, women can develop coping mechanisms and resilience strategies tailored to their unique challenges during menopause.

As a therapist specialising in menopause, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of therapy on women journeying through menopause. With the benefits of therapy, they not only gain understanding and strategies to cope but also harness their innate resilience. The metamorphosis is profound: from uncertainty to empowerment, from isolation to connection, amplifying the effect therapy can have on their menopausal journey.

The journey through menopause is deeply personal and varied for every woman. Recognising and supporting the intimate connection between menopause and mental health can offer a comforting hand during what can be a turbulent transition. With awareness and understanding, we can create a compassionate space where women feel heard, seen and nurtured. Everyone deserves to approach this natural phase of life with the resources and empathy that reinforce their well-being. Together, we can make this experience one of growth, acceptance and empowerment.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Guildford GU5 & GU2
Guildford GU5 & GU2

Donna Morgan is a highly experienced Humanistic Mental Health Therapist with 26 years of practice. Her passion for helping individuals with their mental health has driven her to develop a compassionate and holistic approach to therapy. Donna firmly believes in treating each client as a unique individual and providing them with personalised support.

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