Why am I depressed?

Depression affects twice as many women as men. Midlife is often considered a period of increased risk for depression in women. It is not known why, but it may be related to having a personal or family history of depression, life stressors, and role changes. Menopause is often believed to be a time when women are more likely to become depressed. Studies actually show that depression is more likely to occur in the years during transition to menopause. This period is associated with gradual declines in estrogen levels. Some studies suggest that changes in estrogen levels are associated with onset of depression.

What are the symptoms of depression during midlife?

The symptoms of depression in menopause or perimenopause are: two or more weeks of depressed mood, decreased interest or pleasure in activities, change in appetite, change in sleep patterns, fatigue or loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, excessive feeling of guilt or worthlessness, thoughts of suicide, extreme restlessness and irritability. Many symptoms of menopause overlap with symptoms of depression including problems with sleep, physical symptoms such as hot flashes, fatigue, irritability, anxiety and difficulty concentrating. Some women suffer needlessly because they think these discomforts and problems are a natural part of aging. Depression should not be dismissed as a normal consequence of later life for women.

Depression that goes untreated can lead to more severe episodes of depression and even physical complications. For example, depression is associated with increased risk for heart attacks. A recent study suggests that depression leads to loss of bone mineral density, therefore increasing a women's risk for broken bones. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments which can help resolve symptoms of depression associated with menopause.

Adapted with permission from the University of Michigan Depression Center Web site.