Women often ignore red flags (even the persistent ones) and place their health last on the priority list amidst their busy lives tending to others. In specific, the menopausal transition is a time when mental health issues can peak in a woman’s life.
This blog by guest blogger, Ipshita explores conscious practices with a mindset for
self-love and acceptance (absolutely not simple!) that can help protect you from depressive disorders, and pre-empt and pull through mental health conditions. These simple yet powerful tools can be your best allies in times of distress.
How are you doing?
A friend lost his life to cancer because he ignored back pain for too long. By the time he went to a doctor, it had metastasized (spread) to other parts of his body.
If I have a cough, pain in any part of my body, or a rash, the first thing I do is to make an entry in my Google calendar with the date. The reminder is set to every 3 days. This helps because, in the blink of an eye, days turn into weeks and months.
Since women like us do 3/4th of the unpaid care work, we often neglect our health. At least physical health issues are visible or measurable, what about mental health problems? How do you protect or pull through them?
This may sound strange. You have to build safeguards against issues, such as depression.
The simple act of checking in with yourself daily can make a significant difference in preempting or pulling through mental health challenges.
Women are more likely to suffer from depression than men
A recent global study by (Dattani et al., 2021) shows that 10.7% of the world's population has some mental health disorder, out of which 3.4% people have depression. The ratio of males to females is 2.7% to 4.1%. ADAA suggests 1 in 8 women may experience depression, which is twice as likely as men. WHO states depression is a “common mental disorder”. That means You and I have a fair chance of suffering from depression.
Why women are more susceptible?
2 simple reasons:
Women suffer more often from hormonal fluctuations than men.
They are exposed more to stressors in our environment on a daily basis.
How to identify depression?
Depression s not just a state of mind, but a medical condition. It is not the same as anxiety, though people often use both terms in the same breath.
Anxiety refers to excessive worry or fear of things and circumstances around you, much of which is not in your control. There is a chance that you are hyper.
Depression is the feeling of inexplicable sadness or listlessness. You tend to put up walls around yourself and withdraw from the world.
It won’t go away by itself or with time. It cannot be wished away. The good thing is depression is treatable if you seek out expert help.
So what can you do as a woman to safeguard against depression?
Related reading: Depression and anxiety- a quick guide
1. Gain awareness
Let’s get realistic!
Just because you are having a bad day or two does not mean you are depressed. Everyone goes through such spells of good and bad days.
When should you be concerned?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms of depression must persist for at least two weeks. You can be diagnosed only by experts and not by simply filling up an online query form.
What are the common symptoms of depression?
Depression can be caused by a host of reasons either singularly or in combination.
These could be related to your career, family, relationships with your partner and children, biological conditions (hormones), health issues, social factors, genetic predisposition, etc.
Poor quality of sleep hence, metabolism challenges, digestive system issues
Physically and mentally becoming slower
Inability to concentrate
Having low self-esteem and feeling worthless, poor decisions
Physical pains, headache
Lack of activity, weight gain, fatigue, and poor appetite
Lack of interest in sex or intimacy
A sense of helplessness in life, pessimism
When you practice checking in with yourself daily, you must look for the above symptoms.
Do remember that a clinical diagnosis is possible only by visiting experts and not depending solely on articles, such as this, or looking up information using Google.
Women, in general are more susceptible to:
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) - a severe form of Pre-menstrual syndrome
Perinatal Depression - usually during pregnancy and post-delivery due to low estrogen and progesterone.
Perimenopausal Depression is caused by declining estrogen levels, while social and psychological aspects add fuel to the fire. Common symptoms include mood swings, irritability, sudden extreme anger, abnormal sleep patterns, and hot flush. A sense of losing control and loss of power may prevail due to the end of fertility. When women visibly begin to look older, the body is not as agile as earlier and becomes sluggish, a despondency of the loss of youth and vigor, negative self-image, and loneliness can set in.
Why is it important to address perimenopausal depression?
One's sensitivity to stress (perceived stress) obviously matters and determines the mental state. Quite interestingly, women’s sensitivity to stressors and attitude towards aging and menopause have been shown to influence menopausal symptoms. Therefore, understanding the causes (both hormonal and sociocultural) underlying the perimenopausal experience can help put things in the right perspective and to develop self-compassion and a better outlook. Eventually, this has been shown to reduce depression levels.
There is mounting evidence that depression and autoimmune conditions share common underlying mechanisms (therefore, can influence each other) and that unobvious thyroid autoimmunity can probably lead to depressive disorders. However, these associations are still inconclusive.
Moreover, women are known to be more susceptible to autoimmune conditions during the menopausal transition because the sweeping hormonal changes cause marked changes in the immune system.
Thus, developing measures to cope with stress and keeping mental health under check during this phase can possibly have long-term benefits and minimize the risk of chronic conditions.
2. Tools to navigate depression during the menopausal transition
Journaling doesn’t mean writing a ton of words. You can have a small checklist that you fill up daily as you check in. You can track if the symptoms persist and for how long. This can help in identifying patterns if any. Do not forget to make note of triggers (food, sleep, etc) and experiences that help or worsen your symptoms.
A women’s brain is wired differently even in the metaphoric sense. Many of us do not bother to develop a hobby or pastime that can be fulfilling and calming at the same time. This is primarily because we do not make ourselves a priority.
Try and be part of a group, such as knitting, book club, wine and cheese sessions, trekking, cycling, and board games. These social groups can take you away from your stressful situations and provide an emotional outlet.
Make a few friends
Work on maintaining a small yet intimate and trusted friend circle: people who really care and will check in on you from anywhere in the world, with whom you can share anything without being judged. If you stop keeping in touch, they will notice and intervene. And it works both ways.
This one is a keeper, isn’t it?
Sensitize your family and seek their support
There is no shame if you are suffering from depression or other mental health challenges. With therapy, you can overcome your condition. Unlike other common ailments, mental health therapy requires treatment for a longer duration.
You will also need family support for better treatment outcomes. Research (Zhao et al., 2019) shows that there is a significant correlation between higher family support and resilience with fewer menopausal symptoms.
Therefore, sensitize your family about what you are going through and explicitly ask for their support. Your family can get involved by supporting you emotionally and physically as required, as well as by significantly getting engaged in your treatment plan.
Join a women’s group
You can join a group, such as Miyara, to find like-minded people to discuss things. Gaining the right perspective regarding the changes you go through and community support have been proven to improve self-efficacy. Make it your safe space to ask questions without the fear of being ridiculed or looked down upon like those bitchy girls from college.
Watch our webinar: Mental disorders in midlife
You have got this
Depression is a medical condition. It is not something to be ashamed of and it is treatable. If you are diagnosed with depression, know that you are not alone.
As Brene Brown said:
Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, it is wearing your vulnerability on your sleeves and allowing yourself to be open to healing and thriving.
And... you have got this!!!
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, get in touch
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you. Disclaimer: Opinions expressed belong solely to the content provider. Miyara Women does not undertake any financial/reputational/legal/misrepresentational impact or other obligations/ liabilities that may arise from the content.
About the author
Ipshita Basu Guha Ph.D. is a twin entrepreneur who is passionate about women's health and mental health in general. It is incredible that she not only took a step toward her personal health but also talked her women's tribe into this and drove the campaign on the ground.