Suffering in Silence: The Effects of Menopause on Mental Health

woman low mood menopause

The Menopause, affectionately known as ‘the change’ is commonly associated with hot flushes but have you ever thought about how the hormonal changes woman go through during this time in their lives can affect their mental health?

The BBC survey

In a survey of over 1000 women aged 50-60 commissioned by the BBC, almost 48% of women said that the menopause has negatively affected their mood and mental health. 25% of the women surveyed said that menopause symptoms made them want to stay at home, and 23% reported that the menopause reduced their enjoyment of life.

A lack of knowledge and awareness

Many women have no idea what to expect when it comes to the menopause, and it’s no surprise, given that it’s just not something that’s spoken about. We might remember references being made to our mother or an aunt ‘going through the change,’ but nobody ever spoke about what was involved.

This is reflected in the BBC survey which found that over 70% of women said they didn’t have a strong understanding of the menopause and how it could affect mental and physical health.

They were also reluctant to talk to their doctor about the menopause, even when they were experiencing a deterioration in their mood or mental health.

Celebrities like Carol Vorderman have spoken out about feeling suicidal and not realising that it was because of the menopause, and this has begun to turn the tide, but there’s much more to do.

The impact of menopause on women’s lives

The effects of the menopause on women’s lives go far beyond just hot flushes. The menopause can impact upon physical and mental health, relationships, and work.

Around 3.5 million working women in the UK are over 50. Research has shown that around half of women struggle at work when they’re going through the menopause, and 10% have even given up their job completely. The menopause can bring anxiety, depression, problems with focus, concentration, and memory, low self-esteem and loss of confidence, so you can see why it would make working life hard.

Employers need to do more to raise awareness about the menopause in the workplace, to make reasonable adjustments for women, and to offer understanding and support.

What causes menopause symptoms?

The first thing to mention is while menopause happens to every woman, women will experience it differently. Some women will have barely any symptoms, while others will get a range of physical and emotional symptoms which will impact on their day to day lives.

During the menopause, oestrogen levels start to drop, and that causes hormonal and chemical fluctuations that produce symptoms like fatigue, night sweats, insomnia, hot flashes, memory loss, irritability, feelings of sadness, lack of motivation, trouble focusing, stress, difficulty concentrating, and depression.

The effects of menopause on mental health

Hormonal and chemical fluctuations can cause emotional distress, mood disturbance, and sometimes a worsening of symptoms or relapse in people with an existing mental illness.

What the research says

  • Women with a history of severe PMS or postnatal depression may experience more severe mood swings during the onset of the menopause and beyond.
  • Women with a history of clinical depression are more vulnerable to a relapse during the menopause.
  • The menopause can worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder because it’s thought that many women with the condition are more sensitive to hormonal changes.
  • Falling oestrogen levels can potentially trigger or worsen psychosis.
  • While most people develop schizophrenia as young adults, a significant number of women develop it during the menopause.

Is it the menopause or something more?

Whether mental health symptoms develop because of the menopause or something else, everyone should know what to look out for and how to help if someone close to them begins to experience mental ill health. Is your friend cancelling mate dates? Is your colleague taking more and more days off work?

Countless people are suffering in silence, and it’s up to all of us to get clued up on mental health. Bring Mental Health Awareness or Mental Health First Aid training into your business, or book a place on one of our courses if you’re an individual who wants to know more about mental health. You might just save a life.





Bridget Woodhead