The risk of suicide is highest in menopausal women

A woman whose mother died by suicide has urged people to be aware of the link between menopause and mental health. Her comments come as Veronica O’Keane, professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, warned that suicide among menopausal women is a real problem.

The problem was highlighted in a new documentary on RTÉ entitled The Change: Ireland’s Menopause Story.

Shirley Powell said her mother Mary Killian’s problems began with lack of sleep. She described how the connection between her mother’s mood swings and menopause was never made. “She was 51 when she noticed a change in her sleep. She was tired, things weren’t working properly, so she decided to see a GP. He prescribed her a sleeping pill and it didn’t work. It took a couple of weeks, so she made a second visit, and afterwards she said, “He told me I had depression.”

“Back then, we’re talking 14 years ago, people would have said depression was a ‘madman’s disease’ or ‘bring her in and get treated’ and she wasn’t a woman for that. She would have died of shame if people knew she had to go somewhere to get help.

“We went to another doctor, a psychologist, then to A&E. Nothing really worked between the jigs and the reels they all saw and sadly she committed suicide.”

Studies have found that a drop in progesterone — which often occurs with menopause — can cause trouble sleeping, anxiety and depression.

Shirley said, “There was never a red flag raised with my mom to say, ‘We’re going to look at hormones and menopause,’ and then it just kind of got to the point of no going back.”

dr O’Keane says the mental health of middle-aged women is worryingly neglected. “This is probably reflected in the fact that there is very little awareness that 52 is the median age for a woman to commit suicide, and this raises questions about the lack of research on mental health and menopause.”

Describing how menopause can affect mental well-being on a biological level, she said sex hormones bind to specific receptors in the brain and change behavior. “They change your mood, and women and society are unprepared for the changes they are experiencing. The changes are literally occurring at the genetic level.”

The documentary comes as the shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products becomes a growing concern. Health authorities both in Ireland and internationally have urged manufacturers to speed up production to ensure patients’ needs are met.

Elsewhere in the documentary, Kathy Haskins said a family doctor initially gave her anti-anxiety medication when she was having trouble sleeping.

“I was 27 or 28 when my severe symptoms started. I didn’t sleep from 28 to about 30 and then when I did it was only about three hours. The sweats were absolutely profuse, my anxiety skyrocketed and I had suicidal thoughts. Menopause never crossed my mind.”

When she sought help, Kathy says the GP “fobbed” her on Valium.

It was only when her partner mentioned his problems to his own family doctor that she was called in for a further investigation. “She prescribed me an estrogen patch Thursday morning and I slept 10 hours. After almost 20 months with almost no sleep. Three weeks later, my symptoms stopped completely.”

Meanwhile, Shirley says she wants to make sure her mother’s death wasn’t in vain: “If I can save a person who’s feeling down [and tell them] You don’t have to accept the first response you’re given when you’re feeling depressed. I would encourage them to get a second opinion.”

The Change: Ireland’s Menopause Story airs tomorrow at 9.35pm on RTÉ One​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

​​​​​​ The risk of suicide is highest in menopausal women

Fry Electronics Team

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