Psychological effects of early menopause
Dr Jozelle Miller
August 18, 2020

Psychological effects of early menopause

As women age, their bodies produce less estrogen and progesterone, the main hormones involved in female reproduction.

When these hormones reach a lowa enough level, a woman will permanently stop having a menstrual cycle.

Menopause officially begins 12 months after a woman’s last period. Most women begin menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, but for some women, menopause comes early. If you’re between the ages of 35 and 45 and have missed your period for three months or more, you may be going through menopause earlier than normal.

Early menopause is menopause that begins between the ages of 40 and 45. Premature menopause starts even earlier, before age 40. Many doctors now refer to premature menopause as “premature ovarian failure” or “primary ovarian insufficiency.” These terms reduce some of the stigma for younger women going through menopause.

Early menopause is relatively uncommon. Premature menopause is even less common, with only about 1 percent of women going through menopause before age 40.

Psychological wellbeing & emotions

The diagnosis of a premature or early menopause can bring many changes and challenges: when menopause does not come at the age and stage of life you expected it to, it can have a major impact on your wellbeing. Women who experience premature or early menopause can be at greater risk of depression, anxiety and mood changes.

It can be very upsetting for some women to experience menopause in their 20s or 30s when they expected it to happen in their late 40s or 50s. Often this is a time of feelings of loss, sadness and grief. These feelings are very common, along with the feelings of losing your body image, fertility, femininity and sexuality, and feeling old before your time.

It can take some time to diagnose a premature or early menopause. Not knowing what is wrong, having no control over symptoms and not knowing what the future holds can be frightening. Some women with early menopause talk of ‘loss of womanhood’ and ‘loss of dreams’.

Associated illnesses, such as cancer and chemotherapy or surgery to remove ovaries, may also alter the course of your life. Plans, dreams and expectations, especially as it relate to giving birth to your very own baby must be re-thought and that can be very challenging and distressing.

During this time, women can experience a sense of loss of control, loss of ability to plan and loss of self-image, but often there is no one with whom to share the grief. Girlfriends might not understand because they are not yet experiencing menopause, and, for some, mothers haven’t yet reached menopause either. In some insensitive spaces they may have to deal with open ridicule about their infertility, lack of sex drive and terrible mood swings.

Women who have induced menopause with the sudden hormonal changes can experience symptoms that are often more severe and unpredictable, which can be distressing. They may also be coping with other illnesses at the same time, such as a cancer diagnosis.

There are many factors that contribute to the emotional wellbeing of a woman experiencing premature or early menopause. Being at greater risk of anxiety and depression is also likely because of a range of other physical, psychological and social influences. Some of these include:

• the diagnosis – the time it took, how distressing it was, how it came about, how it was communicated

• the individual physical changes and symptoms – are your symptoms very distressing to you?, what are the effects they have on your daily living?

• other factors occurring at the same time as your diagnosis, such as a serious illness

• your ways of coping – what is your go to coping mechanism in stressful situations?

• whether you are in a relationship and your partner is supportive

• whether you have good support from family and friends

• your lifestyle, including your diet, level of physical activity and drug and alcohol use

• the stage you are at in your life, such as whether you have had children if you wanted to

• any earlier experiences of depression and/or anxiety.

It is important to have a network of family, friends and health professionals who will support you through the initial diagnosis of premature or early menopause, as well as beyond, depending on your age and stage in life.
What helps?

• Talk to someone you know and trust, such as a close friend and/or health professional

• Express your thoughts and feelings in a journal or diary

• Drawing your feelings or expressing yourself in creative and artistic ways is known to help with mood

• Seek some counseling

• Make sure you are eating well and being physically active, as this will help with physical and emotional symptoms of menopause.