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How the menopause impacts mental health, according to experts

Portrait of a thoughtful mature woman standing on the beach and looking at the distance.
The mental health impact of menopause is still not widely spoken about. (Getty Images)

The huge life change that women undergo when they go through the menopause can’t be underestimated, and a new survey has revealed just how much it impacts mental health.

Menopause is a natural process that women go through, usually between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can happen earlier. It occurs when periods stop due to lower hormone levels, and often signifies an entirely new stage of life.

Awareness around menopause has increased dramatically in recent years, as more research into the condition is being carried out and celebrities like Davina McCall shine a spotlight on it through TV documentaries and interviews.

However, the mental health impact of menopause is still not widely spoken about. A new survey, carried out by online platform Issviva, asked 40,000 women to share the menopause symptoms they experience and found that (while everyone has different experiences) mental health was a key concern among respondents.

Issviva’s survey is thought to be one of the largest-ever surveys of menopausal women in the UK. It shows that women going through this stage of their lives are worried about the impact it has on their ability to work or carry out day to day tasks, or live their lives in general.

Watch: Key lifestyle changes to help ease menopause symptoms

The platform, which creates products tailored to meet the menopausal concerns of British women in an effort to build a better menopause experience, found that mental health worries included brain fog (70%), memory loss (52.4%), mood swings (67.5%), anxiety (63%), and depression (47.5%).

According to John Hopkins Medicine, mental health experts say that women are at higher risk for depression when going through sudden hormonal changes, which takes place during perimenopause, menopause, puberty, postpartum, and even during their monthly cycle.

The hormonal fluctuations that take place during menopause influence the brain’s production of serotonin, and can lead to increased irritability, anxiety, and feelings of sadness. Having a history of depression can also put a person at higher risk of experiencing a depressive episode closer to or during menopause.

Brain fog is a very common symptom of perimenopause and menopause, but can be disruptive, particularly at work. A previous study by the University of Westminster identified the top three concerns menopausal women had about the condition affecting their work.

The concerns included how symptoms like anxiety and sleep issues, as well as brain fog, can affect their ability to be productive and may result in needing time off. Women were also worried their managers would not understand their symptoms, or that they could result in challenges when it came to certain work situations.

Menopausal Mature Woman Suffering With Insomnia In Bed At Home
Sleep issues like insomnia and disrupted sleep are common during menopause. (Getty Images)

Elsewhere in Issviva’s survey, it was revealed that menopausal women were also worried about disruption to their sleeping patterns. Not getting enough quality sleep can result in fatigue, and in more severe cases, mental health issues.

Tiredness was the top symptom that respondents complained about (85.7%), followed by muscle aches and pains (73%).

More than two-thirds of respondents (69.7%) also said they had problems sleeping, which led to fatigue, and nearly half (48.1%) said they experienced night sweats and therefore, disrupted sleep.

Commenting on the findings, Charlotte Hunter, specialist menopause nutritionist, said: "There are so many little-known and understood symptoms that people going through menopause experience.

"Feeling like you’re being heard and understood is absolutely imperative at this time in your life and the sense of community and support on the Issviva website is a great place to start.

"Feeling more confident and empowered when it comes to getting the healthcare support that you need and deserve is the key to thriving during this life stage."

It's also important to remember that while menopause can have severe or uncomfortable effects, everyone is different, and not everyone struggles. But whatever the degree of your menopause symptoms, everyone deserves help, which is out there.

If you have menopausal symptoms that are affecting you or you're experiencing symptoms before 45, it's worth talking to your GP. They can usually confirm whether you're menopausal, and offer treatments and suggest lifestyle changes if you have severe symptoms that interfere with your daily life.

You can also find support and advice from The Menopause Charity.

Whatever you're going through, you can call the Samaritans now for free, from any phone, at any time, on 116 123 – a friendly voice will be there to listen – or email jo@samaritans.org.

If you think someone is in immediate danger, the quickest way to get help is to call an ambulance on 999.

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