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Postmenopausal depression and social support

Depression affects some 121 million people worldwide* and in particular middle-aged and elderly women. There are almost as many causes of depression as there are patients making it difficult to apply one solution to all. One of the most vulnerable time’s in a woman’s life is during the perimenopausal and postmenopausal years.

During menopause, many women report increased feelings of the blues from mild periods of sadness to intense clinically diagnoses of depression. While not a direct cause of depression, experts believe that changing hormonal levels affect the various chemicals in the brain that help monitor feelings and moods.

For menopausal women, the stresses associated with ‘the change’ and aging exacerbate the problem. Dealing with a multitude of responsibilities is a challenge when you throw in mood swings, sleeplessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and various other common symptoms.

Researchers are noticing an increased link between depression and isolation. Patients who lack a social support tend to report increased occurrences of melancholy. Many cultures around the world place different emphasis on family and community support. In North America, the recent technology explosion has led to greater connectivity in cyberspace, but far less real, live face-to-face contact. Throw in the aging process and lack of reverence for the older members of society and the news is, well, depressing.

A recent study carried out in the Iranian city Khashan set out to find out if there were links between isolation and depression in elderly women. The aim was to discover if women with social support networks (the study did not indicate whether this social network was traditional or technological) fared better than their more isolated sisters.

In 2007 two groups of women participated in the study. The first group of 100 women were over the age of 55 and had some form of depression. In a second group, 140 women without depression were selected. Both groups answered a series of questionnaire surveys including the Winfield and Triggerman scale for social support and the Geriatric Depression Scale for depression. Between the two groups, the women were closely matched in terms of age, education levels, employment, and presence of chronic disease, marriage status, income levels, and weight.

Depression in the elderly women in the Khashan City, Iran
The most important finding showed that women with support networks reported depression less frequently than did women who lived in relative isolation. The following statistics indicate the importance of social interaction.

*In the depression group, only 41.1% of the women said that they had a support network

*In the non-depression group, 71.9% (nearly double) of respondents reported having social support.

The results point out the need to identify those women suffering from depression, which may be alone, and implement intervention strategies to help women improve their mental health. Especially important is the need to recognize the seriousness of depression in the elderly and to find ways to keep these people integrated in their communities and interested in their lives.

Depression does not have to be an automatic by-product of aging, but it is all too common. Only by working to combat the stigma and shame attached to mental illness and focusing on ways to reach out to the older members of our societies can we hope to help women enjoy better health and inclusion in their postmenopausal years.

Sadat Zohreh (IR) Kashan University of Medical Science, Iran. Sadat Zorheh, Abbaszadeh Fatemeh, Taebi Mahboobeh, Adedzadeh Masoomeh, Saberi Farzaneh, as presented at the International Menopause Society (IMS) 13th World Congress on Menopause, Rome 2011.

*The WHO http://www.who.int/topics/depression/en/

Keep track of your mental health! Menopause, Your Doctor, and You prepares you for your next doctor's appointment!

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