Today is Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk about Depression day. Today, for every text message sent and every long distance call made by Bell and Bell Aliant customers, Bell will donate 5 cents to mental health programs.
In a CTV news article, Olympian Clara Hughes says that the biggest adversary she has ever fought is depression. As spokesperson for the Bell Canada campaign, she is sharing her own story in order to help remove the stigma around the illness and to encourage people to talk about it. “Mental illness is much more common among Canadians than many people think. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and the remaining four will be affected through a friend, family member or colleague.”*
So I’m going to take a deep breath and talk about Menopausal Depression.
I find it a hard thing to talk about. It’s very personal. It isn’t something I really want to share with people. So why am I blogging about it when it really isn’t anyone else’s business? I don’t know. I guess that if Clara Hughes can talk about it, so can I. And maybe someone reading this will recognize themselves and go talk to their doctor. Maybe someone reading this will learn something and become more tolerant of a depressed person in their life. Maybe by telling the world, I will learn to be more accepting of myself and my illness.
Society has a long history of being suspicious and afraid of mental illness. So while you don’t want to tell people because you don’t want to be labeled as being mentally ill and stigmatized by those words, you also carry those very same misconceptions and stigmas, and use them against yourself. This self-imposed shame on top of the public stigma can be very crazy-making. I cannot say about myself that I have a mental illness. I can say, however, that I have menopausal depression, or that I have a chemical or serotonin imbalance. Same thing, different words. Crazy, eh?
The word depression has been thrown around so much that it can be hard to attach any seriousness or legitimacy to it. Being depressed is not being down in the dumps. It doesn’t mean being slightly frustrated or shocked by an unpleasantness. You can’t become depressed by the state of your closet or by a rainy day. And you can’t tell a depressed person to snap out of it any more than you can tell a diabetic to will their blood sugars down. Being depressed is an illness that is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Menopause is another thing that people don’t talk about very much. Every woman is different, but I started noticing signs of peri-menopause (the period of time before menstruation ceases) at about age 44 when I noticed that my monthly periods were becoming less reliable. At age 49 I officially entered menopause (you are “in menopause” for the full year in which you have not had a menstrual period). I am now considered a post-menopausal woman, and I turned 50 last July.
Menopausal Depression is caused by low serotonin levels, which are the result of a drop in estrogen. “Serotonin regulates sleep, energy, mood and libido, and is central to our well-being. Women (like men) vary in the amounts of serotonin they have available in the brain. Researchers have suggested that women who have low serotonin to start out with (largely a genetic matter) may become more symptomatic than other women at menopause.” **
When your brain is messed up this way, you don’t see things clearly. You exist in a fog. You’re tired all the time and you feel bland and empty. Happiness disappears from your life. You can’t dance because dance is joy, and joy is gone. It takes all your energy just to hold your end of a conversation or to show animation in your features. It takes all your energy to go to work, and your work eventually suffers. While having a cup of tea with your friend may be the best thing for you, it is also completely exhausting and so you avoid your friends.
There are medications that can help, including a fairly new class of drugs called SSRIs (Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.) SSRI drugs work by slowing the reuptake process in brain neurons, which results in a rise of the amount of serotonin in the brain. With more serotonin present, the brain can more efficiently transmit messages regarding sleep, mood, emotions and feelings. ***
If you have a friend who suffers from depression, one thing you can do for them is to educate yourself on the illness, and then take it upon yourself to check in with them now and again. Not to talk about their depression, but just to say hello… because depressed people almost always isolate themselves.
Living with menopausal depression is a struggle. It’s like climbing a scree slope. I might decide to write more about how depression has affected me another time. For today, I just wanted to add my voice to the conversation and let people know that menopausal depression is real and it isn’t something to be ashamed of.
This excerpt from Tess Zevenberge of The Province says it better than I can:
Accepting the fact you are depressed is not easy. You may fear what people’s perceptions of you will be. I was terrified everyone would see me as weak. I definitely felt weak and powerless and surrendering to this feeling was hard to do. Depression was the antithesis of everything I thought I was — resilient, independent and in control. Instead my depression has taught me humility and moreover, that I am human but not superhuman.
Working through the grey malaise of depression has made me stronger even when I am at my most vulnerable. I can see the bright spot in my depression in the form of my courage and strength to be open about it and in my ability to accept it and reach out for help. There is nothing to fear and nothing to be embarrassed about. I have to shed societal expectations of who I think I should be and start living my life as who I am, as one friend put it. It’s a process. There is no overnight cure.
So it’s with conviction and personal experience that I tell you the worst thing you can do when you are depressed is socially isolate yourself and worry how others will perceive you. This will not help you get better.
We need to give depression and mental illness a voice and that’s what I aim to do. I want to be part of the conversation that does make it better and provides hope.
References in this blog found at: