‘Fear of being labelled hysterical: 1 in 10 women experience suicidal thoughts due to perimenopause

Exclusive: ’Many women are suffering in silence, not even talking to their partner or spouse about it,’ says expert

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Wednesday 06 October 2021 14:25 BST
Perimenopause refers to the period leading up to the menopause - with hormones often fluctuating during this time
Perimenopause refers to the period leading up to the menopause - with hormones often fluctuating during this time
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Around one in ten women experience suicidal thoughts because of the perimenopause, according to a new study.

Research, exclusively shared with The Independent, found around nine in ten women going through the perimenopause experience mental health problems.

Perimenopause refers to the period leading up to the menopause - with hormones often fluctuating during this time and women starting the perimenopause at different ages.

The study, carried out by a free women’s health app called Heath & Her, discovered three quarters of women said they had never experienced mental health issues before going through the perimenopause.

Researchers, who polled 2,000 women in the UK aged between 46 and 60 who have experienced the perimenopause, found just over a third of women polled have not sought help with their symptoms, while eight out of 10 do not discuss mental health issues with their partner or spouse.

Kate Bache, co-founder of Health & Her, said: “We know from our previous research it takes on average 14 months for women to realise they’re in perimenopause. It can happen before your periods have even stopped.

“Many women are suffering in silence, not even talking to their partner or spouse about it, despite many suffering severe mental health issues that are simply down to a drop in oestrogen levels in their bodies.”

Many of the 3.4 million women aged between 50 and 64 in the UK will be experiencing symptoms of the menopause – with side effects ranging from heart palpitations to hot flushes, vaginal pain, anxiety and depression.

“Misdiagnosis and incorrect treatment are a huge issue with many women still being prescribed anti-depressants instead of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) - which alleviates symptoms of the menopause - which would provide a much more holistic treatment,” Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East, told The Independent.

“Add to this the gaps in support at work, at home and more widely across society and you begin to understand the causes of the toll on women’s mental wellbeing.”

“A loss of fertility, perceived youth, libido (and therefore, perhaps, desirability) – and these are really hard things to sit with.”

Eleanor Morgan

Ms Harris, who has set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) of MPs which is focused on the menopause, noted her menopause private members bill has its second reading in the House of Commons later this month.

“I hope that this will be a catalyst for change, bringing an end to the stigma that women have faced for far too long,” she added.

The fresh research found around six in ten perimenopausal women are experiencing low energy and a dearth of motivation, while just over half are suffering low mood and depression.

Meanwhile, four in ten are experiencing anger and mood swings and a third are grappling with feelings of worthlessness.

Almost half of women steered clear of seeing family or friends, while just over four in ten said they sometimes did not want to get out of bed. Around one in six perimenopausal women are ringing in sick to work.

After seeking mental health, one in ten women began taking antidepressants for the first time after their symptoms started. A previous poll of almost 3,000 women conducted by Channel 4 found two-thirds were offered antidepressants for symptoms of the menopause, even though this can worsen them.

Eleanor Morgan, the author of Hormonal and a trainee psychotherapist, told The Independent the perimenopause is “an experience that can be confusing, physically uncomfortable and wrought with anxiety”.

She said when she was researching her book, she spoke to many women who were totally unaware the perimenopause existed.

Ms Morgan added: “Although there are biological changes happening within the body, I am wary of the emotional aspects being pathologised – particularly in the routine prescribing of antidepressants.”

She said the loss of fertility, “perceived youth, libido and therefore, perhaps, desirability” are difficult things to come to terms with.

Ms Morgan added: “Are you feeling heard, seen and respected by the people around you? If not, might that mean you want to retreat?

“Do you feel able to speak openly about how you feel or are you holding onto it all for fear of being labelled 'mad' or 'hysterical', because of the stage of life you're at as a woman?' These are tiring narratives to carry. Shame is exhausting.

She warned “emotion lives in the body” and can become “physically disruptive” if people have no outlet or release for their emotions.

Feelings of anxiety and sadness may be linked to “shame” and feeling unable to “speak openly about what's going on” due to fears of how people will respond, she said.

“This speaks to a society that still has many harmful ideas about how women 'should' be or present in the world, and there is no pill to fix that,” Ms Morgan said.

Symptoms of menopause also include vaginal dryness, night sweats, insomnia, headaches, a reduced sex drive, recurrent urinary tract infections – as well as mood changes, feelings of sadness, difficulty concentrating and issues with memory.

Dr Deborah Lancastle, a psychologist interested in the psychosocial elements of women’s reproductive health, said: “Anxiety, phobias and panic attacks can occur for the first time. Many women experience depression with no previous history. These are the symptoms that people don’t physically see, so can be more difficult to deal with.”

Diane Danzebrink, who runs the Menopause Support network, which works with 10,000 women, told The Independent the dearth of information about the psychological and cognitive symptoms of menopause can lead to many women being unaware of what is causing their mental health issues.

“Unrecognised and unsupported these symptoms can have hidden costs on personal health, relationships, careers,” the menopause counsellor added. “And tragically on the suicide statistics which regularly show us that the greatest risk for suicide amongst women is highest between the ages of 45-55, the time of perimenopause or menopause for the majority of women”.

You can find helpful tips on how to start a conversation or if you are worried about someone on Samaritans website

You can contact the Samaritans helpline by calling 116 123. The helpline is free and open 24 hours a day every day of the year.

You can also contact Samaritans by emailing jo@samaritans.org. The average response time is 24 hours.

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