Archie Bunker called it "mental pause," his malapropism in sync withmyth and folklore: Women of a certain age turn into shrieking hags or sobbingwimps.
But mood changes don't affect everyone at midlife, and when they do, it oftenhas little to do with hormones and a lot to do with life events. Women in their50s may have children who are leaving the nest, parents who are sick or dying,or their own chronic health problems. And mood changes tied to menopause may besecondary effects: Hot flashes and night sweats rob women of sleep, making themcrabby.
A factor few people talk about, says Phyllis KernoffMansfield, professor of women's studies at PennsylvaniaStateUniversity
In a five-year study of women's moods as they approached and experiencedmenopause, Sonja McKinlay, president of the NewEngland Research Institutes in Watertown, Mass., found that the rate ofdepression in nearly 2,600 women increased slightly in the year before and theyear after menopause. The risk was greatest among women who already had ahistory of depression, who had hot flashes, who suffered from some otherdisease, or who were under significant stress. It had nothing, absolutely nothing,to do with estrogen levels in the blood.
But for some women, hormonal changes may play a role in mood.
Managing mood. But there are unknowns. The study,published in the August 2000 American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology,lasted six weeks--long enough to show improvement. But no one knows if, say ayear down the road, the estradiol would keep workingor start to show ill effects.
For now, treating depression and other mood disorders in women at this point intheir lives is like treating anyone else. What's needed is a careful evaluationof each woman's condition and possible use of an antidepressant or other drugand psychotherapy.
Copyright 2002 U.S.News & World Report, L.P. Reprinted with permission.