Menopause, Mental Health and Me Part 1
98% of women attending Dr Louise Newson’s menopause clinic are experiencing psychological symptoms and yet the impact of the menopause on mental health is often overlooked. Miriam Akhtar shares her own story and explores the menopause mindset.
It is a truth not universally acknowledged that women’s psychological health is significantly affected at and post menopause. For most of my life an appointment with the doctor only ever meant dealing with a physical illness. Mental health was never discussed, nor was there any acknowledgement of the relationship between body and mind and how what’s going on in the body can affect the mind.
In my late thirties I began to spiral downwards, which initially I put down to some tough life events. It might have been PMS but eventually it got to the stage where I was feeling blue for most of the month. There was the deep underground rumble of my father’s sudden death at the age of 41. It’s a strange feeling to be approaching the age at which a parent died and I was convinced that I would also go around that age. There was a magnetic quality to these thoughts.
Eventually I made an appointment to see my doctor. He was kind, allowing me to express my bleakness and then leave by the garden door so I wouldn’t have to face anyone. I started on anti-depressants, trying three of these drugs when I was at my most vulnerable. None of them worked. All had side-effects. The most gruesome was the strange sensation of being in the shower with water cascading down my back, except that when it happened, I was standing by the roadside fully clothed. A terrifying experience caused by a pill that was supposed to help me feel better not worse.
I was just one of those baffling middle-aged women, who were prescribed anti-depressants but didn’t seem to get any better. I had wondered if there could be a link to hormones, but I was still a long way off menopause. Then I came across the word ‘perimenopause’ to describe the fluctuation in hormone levels in the ten years leading up to the menopause. It wasn’t until relatively recently that the term passed into common use. After years of searching for a solution, even writing a book on depression, I was finally prescribed HRT and got my life back.
HRT gave me the reset but it was positive psychology that really gave me back control of my emotional wellbeing. We’re more aware now of the body-mind connection. The way we think about the menopause can directly impact our experience of it. A more positive outlook can lead to an improvement in symptoms. In part 2 I outline five ways to menopause wellbeing to take you from PMS to post-menopause strength.