Women deal with tremendous changes during their 40s and 50s. Kids leave home, their parents become more dependent, and career goals may change.  And then there's menopause. Approximately 75 percent of women experience symptoms in the years leading up to their last period. Some have a tougher time than others.  Declining hormones can be linked to a range of symptoms from hot flashes and insomnia to irritability and poor concentration...and for some women, depression.  The confusing part is that depression and menopause share many of the same symptoms. 

According to the University of Michigan Depression Center, "Depression affects twice as many women as men. Midlife is often considered a period of increased risk for depression in women. ... it may be related to having a personal or family history of depression, life stressors, and role changes." The center notes that depression is more likely to occur during the transition to menopause (perimenopause) than during menopause itself.

Symptoms of depression and menopause

According to The University of Michigan, they are:

Two or more weeks of depressed mood, decreased interest or pleasure in activities, change in appetite, change in sleep patterns, fatigue or loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness, thoughts of suicide, extreme restlessness and irritability.

Many symptoms of depression and menopause overlap, including problems with sleep, hot flashes, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating.

While it's common for depression to accompany menopause, it's not necessarily normal and certainly shouldn't be dismissed as "a part of aging."  Serious, untreated depression can lead to serious consequences.  Fortunately, there are many treatment options available.

What are the treatment options?

Once your doctor has ruled out medical causes for depression, treatment during menopause is similar to treatment during any other time of life. Hormone replacement therapy may be considered as an additional part of the treatment plan.

Diet. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, lean protein, low fat dairy, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.  Decrease sugar, processed foods, salt, alcohol, and caffeine.  Some studies suggest that increasing your intake of calcium and Vitamin D can help reduce depression symptoms.  Keep a food journal to track whether symptoms improve with dietary changes.

Exercise. The link between exercise, depression, and menopausal symptoms are clear.  Studies show significant improvement in patients who add moderate, regular exercise to their daily routine. 

Stress Management. Yoga, meditation, and other stress management techniques, along with healthy sleep habits are all proven to improve menopausal and depression symptoms.  Keep your bedroom cool to reduce hot flashes and night sweats that could lead to insomnia.  Make relaxation a priority.

Support. Isolation and loneliness are both causes and consequences of depression.  Talk with friends and family about your feelings.  Make it a point to socialize.  This could involve joining clubs, support groups, or community organizations.  Log on to social networking websites online and connect with old friends.

Therapy. Depression is best treated with a combination of therapies including behavioral or talk therapy with a licensed counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.  Ask your doctor or loved ones for a referral.

Antidepressants. A wide range of medications can successfully treat depression.  Talk with your doctor about whether this treatment route is right for you.