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Mental health in mid life women

A woman in her 40s exercising outdoors

For mental health awareness week we are taking a look at mental health across the life course and consider how our mental health is impacted as we age. The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week happens every year, and it’s the biggest opportunity for the whole of the UK to come together to focus on getting good mental health. The week aims to tackle stigma and help people understand and prioritise their and others’ mental health.

Midlife can be a time of immense change, both physically and emotionally. For women in midlife the many symptoms which can accompany this are often blamed on the natural hormonal alterations that take place during perimenopause and menopause.

While this may play a part for some symptoms, such as an increased risk in depression in some women, there is more going on than just hormonal change.

Many women may have difficult teenagers or children who are off to university or leaving home and suffer from the ‘empty nest syndrome. They may have reached a career level with greater expectations. These stressors can affect relationships. This is the time of life when many women end long-term relationships, begin new ones or simply decide they want some time alone.

It is also a time when people may be starting to deal with either their own health issues or those facing their parents as they age. Additional responsibilities can be difficult to coordinate. 

On top of this there may be changes to the body and brain as a result of menopause. Coupled with this a sense of loss at the end of fertility and the physical effects of the menopausal transition such as intermittent bleeding, lack of sleep due to night sweats, hot flushes and brain fog.

Negative coping strategies like excess alcohol, overuse of pain or sleep medication, and increased food consumption combined with social withdrawal and less activity exacerbate inflammation and other processes which are associated physical pains, cognitive problems and depressive symptoms.

The timing of these life changes coupled with perimenopause and menopause symptoms creates a ‘perfect storm’ of issues that combined can result in poor mental health.

Help and support for people experiencing menopause and mental health concerns is available via the NHS website.

Online talks discussing menopause

During June 2022 the NCSEM-EM ran a series of online talks discussing various aspects of menopause. The series myth busted and outlined what the evidence says around menopause.

Source: Kuck MJ, Hogervorst E. Stress, depression, and anxiety: psychological complaints across menopausal stages. Front Psychiatry. 2024 Feb 22;15:1323743. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2024.1323743