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New Research Identifies Risk Factors for Depression After Menopause

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Key Takeaways

  • New research shows 41% of postmenopausal women reported feeling depressed.
  • Health-related risk factors include conditions like physical and mental illness and disability.
  • Experts say screening for depression in women who have gone through menopause is critical.

While mood changes have long been a symptom associated with menopause, recent data highlights just how frequently those mood changes are identified as depression, as well as specific risk factors that increase the likelihood of depression. 

The data, published in the journal Menopause on June 29, shows 41% of postmenopausal surveyed expereinced some form of depression. To conduct their study, researchers recruited 485 women in Turkey to answer questions about their health, sociodemographic status, and lifestyle. 

According to the study, health factors that significantly increase the risk of depression among postmenopausal women include:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • History of illness that requires continuous medication
  • Presence of physical disability
  • History of a mental disorder with a physician's diagnosis
  • Having four or more living children

What This Means For You

Knowing that depression is common after menopause may help you recognize if you’re experiencing depressive symptoms. Reducing controllable risk factors—like alcohol consumption—may even help lower your odds of becoming depressed.

The Link Between Menopause and Depression

While experts say the incidence of depressive symptoms during this stage of a woman's life is quite common, the reasons why have not been so obvious. 

“The exact causes of depression and mood-related symptoms during [menopause] have not been fully described, but studies suggest they're likely multifactorial—not just due to hormones alone—with biologic, genetic, and life circumstances contributing as well,” Ashley Eskew, MD, an OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist, tells Verywell.

This Menopause study is not the first to focus on menopause and the risk of depressive symptoms. But it introduces more health-focused risk factors. Previous research has identified risk factors such as: 

  • Unemployment
  • Low level of education
  • Being Black or Hispanic
  • Smoking
  • Poor social support
  • History of anxiety or depression

While the latest research adds things like history of illness, disability, and continued medication use to the list, Eskew explains that the basic physical symptoms associated with erratic changes in hormones may be contributing factors to depression too.

“Bothersome symptoms such as hot flashes, poor sleep quality, vaginal dryness, and pain with intercourse may further contribute to depressive feelings and reduced quality of life,” Eskew says. 

How To Treat Postmenopausal Depression

Once a woman is clinically diagnosed with depression, treatment options may include:

The Menopause study authors say their results will help raise awareness about depression among postmenopausal women and promote screening for early diagnosis. 

“It is important not only for clinicians to screen menopausal patients for depression, but also for women to be proactive in discussing these issues with their provider,” Ankita Langan, MD, of Midtown OB-GYN in Columbus, Georgia, tells Verywell. Dr. Langan was not affiliated with the study.

In addition to getting screened, experts say women should consider proactively implementing certain lifestyle habits to help manage symptoms of menopause.

"While there’s little evidence that diet reduces depression risk, healthy eating during the menopause transition benefits the brain—and the rest of the body—by maintaining energy levels and providing cells with the nutrients they need to function properly," Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan tells Verywell. "Regular physical activity may also relieve some symptoms of depression.”

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Article Sources
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  1. Ozdemir K, Sahin S, Guler D, Unsal A, Akdemir N. Depression, anxiety, and fear of death in postmenopausal women. Menopause. June 29, 2020. Published Ahead of Print. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000001578

  2. Maki PM, Kornstein SG, Joffe H, et al. Guidelines for the evaluation and treatment of perimenopausal depression: Summary and recommendations. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2019;28(2):117-134. doi:10.1089/jwh.2018.27099.mensocrec

  3. Posmontier B. Treatment options for depression during the menopausal transition. Journal of the American Academy of PAs. April 2013;26(4):40-44,E45-E46.