Depressive disorder is frequently referred to simply as depression—but let’s not just assume it’s only about feeling down or going through a passing phase. Depression is a serious mental health condition that requires patience from loved ones and professional medical and mental health care.
Depression does not discriminate based on a person’s gender, race or socioeconomic status. In 2016, the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health noted more than 16 million American adults suffered at least one depressive event over the course of a year.
Fortunately, understanding depression is not rocket science. There are mental health professionals trained in early detection who can help develop a treatment plan that addresses the root causes of the disorder, many people can and do get better, but first, they have to recognize the symptoms, some of which include:
- Changes in sleep/sleep disturbances
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Loss of energy/fatigue
- Changes in movement (less activity or agitation)
- Physical aches and pains
In addition, people who are suffering from depression often experience:
- A lack of interest or pleasure in activities
- Feelings of low self-worth, guilt, or shortcomings
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Suicidal thoughts
What Causes Depression?
According to well-established research that has been conducted over many years, a number of factors contribute to or can cause depression, including:
- Emotional and physical trauma, which can cause long-term changes in how the brain responds to fear and stress.
- Genetics—mood disorders such as depression tend to run in families.
- Changes in life circumstances, such as a divorce, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job.
- Age-related changes to the body, such as a decline in hormone production from the endocrine system.
- Other medical conditions, such as a history of sleep disturbances, medical illness, chronic pain, anxiety, and/or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Substance abuse.
The onset of perimenopause and menopause results in a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that can cause stress, frustration, and ultimately, depression. These symptoms—added to an already full load of responsibilities with family, work, finances, etc.—can be overwhelming. To make matters worse, many women dread the approach of menopause after hearing stories they have heard from friends, family members, and most of all, by the media.
Mental health issues like severe depression, stress and anxiety can very well, in certain circumstances, be a result of menopause. Hormone imbalances that are often associated with perimenopause and menopause can inhibit the body’s natural ability to manage stress and decrease the amount of “happy hormones,” such as dopamine and serotonin, making women going through menopause susceptible to depression.
How Does Hormonal Imbalance Contribute to Depression?
Estrogen, a hormone that boosts serotonin, helps fight depression, and raises endorphins, is one of those hormones that could be out of balance in your body. The low estrogen levels often found during menopause can cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
Progesterone, which helps to balance estrogen, also helps promote sleep, and has a natural calming effect. It normalizes libido and is a natural diuretic and antidepressant. When your progesterone levels are out of whack, insomnia can result and bad moods can be more prevalent.
Cortisol, also called the stress hormone, can contribute to depressive symptoms if you are getting too much or too little. Too much cortisol can make you agitated, cause an increase in belly fat and spark sugar cravings, all of which can affect mood. Low levels of cortisol can be associated with an inability to handle stress, extreme fatigue, low libido, and mood instability.
A hormonal imbalance can also cause depression in men who are going through andropause. Low testosterone levels can lead to symptoms of depression, and men can be in more mental health danger than women because they tend to attempt to mask the symptoms and act as if nothing is wrong.
Andropause, also known as male menopause, is associated with a variety of symptoms, including changes in the body, mood, energy levels, sex drive, attitude, and endurance. Declining testosterone levels also place men at increased risk for various health problems, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
Major depression related to andropause is often caused by low testosterone levels. Testosterone is incredibly important when it comes to many of the body’s functions. Low levels of testosterone could be a result of hypogonadism, which is a condition that affects men when the body doesn’t produce enough of this essential sex hormone. Men with low levels of testosterone are often diagnosed with depression or often suffer from depressive symptoms.
Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, has also been linked to depression. When the thyroid is not producing enough T3, the thyroid hormone, levels of serotonin, an essential neurotransmitter that regulates moods and behavior, decrease.
Along with fluctuating hormone levels, as men get older, the emotional effects of losing muscle mass and hair, putting on weight and dealing with erectile dysfunction, insomnia and sore and aching bodies can contribute to a feeling of general discomfort or even cause depression.
How Is Depression Treated?
Make no mistake — depression can be debilitating. However, there are well-established treatments available. Most importantly, the key is to recognize the symptoms and seek help from a mental health professional working in conjunction with an experienced physician.
A patient-centered treatment plan can include cognitive behavioral therapy (also known as talk therapy), family-focused therapy, and interpersonal therapy.
Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression and to alleviate mild-to-moderate symptoms. Brain stimulation therapies can be tried if other treatments are not effective. These include electroconvulsive therapy or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Light therapy, during which a person is exposed to full-spectrum light in an effort to regulate the hormone melatonin, has also proven effective in certain circumstances. There is also evidence for alternative approaches such as acupuncture and meditation.
Nutrition is an important part of a comprehensive treatment plan as certain vitamins and supplements can be taken to help people deal with depression. Fish oil, which contains the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), can also enhance the body’s ability to ameliorate the symptoms of depression.
A mental health professional might also prescribe an antidepressant such as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which can ease the symptoms of moderate to severe depression and anxiety. A treatment plan can also include medications such as mood stabilizers or even antipsychotic medications, although many of these medications can come with major side effects.
SSRIs ease depression by increasing the levels of the hormone serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that carries signals between brain cells. SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, making more serotonin available. Diminished levels of serotonin increase the risk of mental and substance use disorders, which can have a powerful effect on how people interact with their families, their friends, and their communities.
However, there are very real risks to taking antidepressants. Side effects can include:
- Diminished sexual interest, desire, performance, satisfaction, or all four.
- An increase in suicidal thoughts.
- Insomnia and skin rashes
- Chronic pain in the muscles and joints
- Stomach problems such as nausea
- Muscle discomfort including tics and spasms, rigid or trembling limbs and compulsive restlessness
- Severe anxiety.
A BodyLogicMD-affiliated provider might also recommend a program such as CognitivePro, which can help stimulate brain power and promote clear cognition for adults struggling with conditions that contribute to social anxiety.
Could Hormone Replacement Therapy Help Alleviate Depression?
Hormonal imbalances and hormonal fluctuations have a recognizable impact on our quality of life, including affecting our moods and disturbing our sleep. While only a mental health professional can help pinpoint the cause of your depression, a physician trained in hormone imbalances can be an invaluable ally.
The strong relationship between hormones and depression makes bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) an effective treatment for andropausal and menopausal depression. Following a series of medical tests designed to evaluate the efficacy of your endocrine system, a practitioner within the BodyLogicMD network will develop a plan to balance your hormone levels.
In addition, a healthy eating plan, a targeted supplement regimen, and other lifestyle changes can address other causes of depression, like a vitamin B12 or vitamin D deficiency. A blood test can help determine if you do have a vitamin deficiency or if you hormones are out of balance. The physicians within the BodyLogicMD network specialize in bioidentical hormones—hormones that which are designed to match the body’s natural hormones.
Many people think that antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications are their only choice, immediately asking their physicians about these medications without considering other options. BodyLogicMD-affiliated physicians, however, explore the underlying issues to determine whether their patients are experiencing a hormonal imbalance or other issue that is contributing to or causing their depression. Such an evaluation allows for holistic treatment options aimed at resolving the underlying issue rather than just treating depressive symptoms.
If you are living with depression, whether or not you think it may be caused by a hormonal imbalance, contact the BodyLogicMD-affiliated physician nearest you today to schedule an appointment and learn more about how a targeted treatment plan can help you regain your health, wellbeing, and joy for life.