This week I was asked, “Is menopause making me crazy?” Yes, I used the “C” word, because that was the question, but also because of the context. The question wasn’t asked by a person with mental illness, which I would never refer to as “crazy”. It was posed by a woman who was struggling to understand all of the symptoms she was going through, and used a term that many can relate to.
First, what is menopause? This is the period in a woman’s life when she stops menstruating. It naturally occurs slowly over time as reproductive hormone (estrogen and progesterone) production declines, typically in one’s 40’s-50’s. It can also occur abruptly following a surgery (hysterectomy), or following chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
It marks the end of fertility, or the ability to get pregnant, but does not mean the end of a woman’s health, sexuality or vitality. Given that average life expectancy for women in the U.S. is 81, this can be considered a mid-life issue!
Many of the symptoms are well known, and are often a cause of amusement, resulting in the very popular Menopause the Musical. Some are a nuisance but don’t necessarily affect behavior, such as:
-Slowed metabolism and weight gain
-Hair thinning and dry skin
Other symptoms can result in difficulties with thinking and mood. Hot flashes and night sweats disrupt sleep. Since menopause can go on for years, eventually, this chronic lack of sleep affects the brain, resulting in:
-Difficulty dealing with disappointment
-Decreased ability to display happiness or recognize happiness in others
-“Microsleeps” which are periods up to 30 seconds where you “tune out”, meaning you are not taking in and processing information. Imagine this happening when you are driving!
-Delirium, or feeling loopy
The hormone changes, in addition to the lack of sleep, can also lead to depression, irritability or anxiety. Also, sexual function and desire can be affected which may impact relationships.
Because these symptoms gradually creep up on you over time, it is easy to see how a person can feel that they are “losing their mind” or “going crazy”. They may not understand why they burst out into tears or a panic attack for no reason. It can feel like they are out of control. They can’t figure out why they can’t remember things, and it takes longer to understand or learn new things. This makes one wonder if they are getting “old timer’s” or dementia.
What is important to remember is that you aren’t alone. Over 1 million women in the U.S. go through the same thing every year. There are many ways to bring relief to the symptoms of menopause, including medications and supplements, diet and exercise, relaxation techniques, support groups and self-help strategies. Talk to your doctor about the symptoms and your options. Also, talk to other women-they may be struggling with the same issues, or may have some great tips on how to cope.
Finally, if you feel you need help with the emotional symptoms of menopause remember that the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority is here to help. Our 24/7 helpline is (800)241-4949.
Dr. Carmen McIntyre is the Chief Medical Officer at Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. If you have a question for Dr. McIntyre, please submit it to AskTheDr@dwmha.com