Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Depression at menopause

In Brief

Depression at menopause

Two new studies find that the transition to menopause is linked to depression and imply that the depression is at least partly the result of hormonal changes.

In one study, 231 Philadelphia women, ages 35–47, were followed for eight years. All were premenopausal (had regular menstrual cycles) and none had ever been clinically depressed. During the study, 43% went into the menopausal transition, also called perimenopause: They began to have skipped and irregular periods and changes in menstrual blood flow. Women were four times more likely to report a high number of depressive symptoms during perimenopause than before, and twice as likely to develop clinical depression.

After correcting for possible effects of smoking, body mass index (a measure of weight-height ratio), premenstrual syndrome, hot flashes, and insomnia, as well as general health, marital and employment status, and age, the researchers found that depressive symptoms were correlated with changes in hormone production. The strongest risk factor for depression was a fluctuating level of the female hormone estradiol.

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