A woman whose mother died by suicide has urged people to be aware of the link between menopause and mental health. Her remarks come as Veronica O’Keene, professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, warns that suicide in women is a real concern in the age of menopause.
A new documentary called RTE sheds light on the issue The Change: Ireland’s Menopause Story,
Shirley Powell said that her mother Mary Killian’s problems began with a lack of sleep. She told how the link between her mother’s mood swings and menopause was never made. “She was 51 when she started changing her sleep. She was tired, things weren’t working out properly, so she decided to visit a GP. He put her on a sleeping pill and That didn’t work. It had been going on for a couple of weeks so he took a second visit and later he said ‘he told me I had depression’.
“In those days, we were talking 14 years ago, people would have said depression was a ‘mad man’s illness’ or ‘take them in, get them treated’, and that was not a woman for that. People would die of embarrassment, knowing that she had somewhere to go for help.
“We went to another doctor, a psychologist, then A&E. So looking at them all between gigs and reels, nothing really worked, and unfortunately, she died by suicide.”
Studies have shown that a decrease in progesterone – which often occurs during menopause – can lead to sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression.
Shirley said: “With my mom, there was never a red flag raised to say ‘we’ll take a look at hormones and menopause’, and then it just got to the point where there was no coming back. “
Dr O’Keene says there is worrying neglect about the mental health of middle-aged women. “This is perhaps reflected in the fact that there is little awareness that 52 years of age is the average age for a woman to die by suicide and this brings into question the lack of research into mental health and menopause.”
Describing how menopause might affect mental well-being on a biological level, he said sex hormones depend on specific receptors in the brain and modify behavior. “They change your mood, and women aren’t ready and society isn’t ready for the changes they experience. Changes happen literally at the genetic level.”
The documentary comes as the shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products continues to grow. Health officials in Ireland and internationally are prompting manufacturers to ramp up production to meet the needs of patients.
Elsewhere in the documentary, Kathy Haskins said that a GP initially gave her anxiety medication when she had trouble sleeping.
“I was 27 or 28 when my severe symptoms started. I didn’t sleep from 28 to 30 and then, when I did, it was only for about three hours. The sweating was absolutely violent, my anxiety intensified And I was having suicidal thoughts. Menopause never crossed my mind.”
When she asks for help, Cathy says that the GP “betrayed” her with Valium.
When her partner told her GP about her problems she was called for further evaluation. “She prescribed me an estrogen patch on Thursday morning and I slept 10 hours. Even after almost 20 months of almost no sleep. After three weeks my symptoms stopped completely.”
Meanwhile, Shirley says she wants to make sure her mother’s death doesn’t go in vain: “If I can save a man who is feeling depressed [and tell them] They don’t have to accept the first answer given to feel sad. I would encourage them to get a second opinion.”
‘The Change: Ireland’s Menopause Story’ will air tomorrow at 9.35 pm on RTE One.