According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the rate of suicide in women aged 45-54 years old has increased by around 6% in the last 20 years. Furthermore, in women, the age-specific category with the highest rate of suicide is 50-54 years old. This is slightly older than the most common age category for suicide in men (45-49 years).
You would be forgiven for believing that teenagers and younger people have the highest rate – but actually, middle age is where it’s at. Though the age group of 10-24 years old is showing an alarming increase in the rate of suicide in young girls and women.
Menopause and Mental Health in Midlife Women
So, what’s going on here… why is the 50-54 age group experiencing such high levels of mental health issues and suicide?
The most common suggestions are empty nest syndrome and menopause. Yet many women are being treated for their low mood and poor mental health with medications for depression as opposed to HRT.
Now, I’m not here to suggest that anti-depressants shouldn’t be prescribed. Every woman’s needs are different, but with a potential connection between the age of menopause and high suicide rates, surely we have to consider menopause as a possible causative factor in low mood first?
Whilst I am a positive psychologist, speaker, writer, mindset coach, and mental health and suicide prevention trainer, I want to talk to you as me; Tabby Kerwin – woman, mum, widow and experiencer of peri-menopause.
I was 44 years old when I first started noticing symptoms – but it wasn’t the well-advertised hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog, period irregularities or lack of interest in sex that alerted me to my peri-menopausal years – it was the change in my mood.
I speak and write a lot about mental health from the perspective of my professional and lived experience. I previously lived with depression and anxiety for a decade as a younger woman so I am no stranger to feeling those sensations of grey and numbness. I even experienced suicidal thoughts at that time; albeit fleeting and which have never returned.
I am recovered now, which was dependent on me taking daily action to manage my emotions and promote positivity and happiness – and even in the wake of grief, I stayed ‘above the line’ on the mental health continuum and emotionally fit, flourishing even. It takes work but it’s part of my daily routine to do that work, so my resilience and emotional fitness levels are high.
But a few years ago I noticed a lethargy in my mood; low feelings when there was no real reason to feel that way. I was doing the work on and for me… so I got curious. Whilst I could feel my mood lowering it wasn’t the same grey and numbness I felt with depression – this was subtly different – but I knew I had to explore the emotions and feelings in order to manage them.
The Perimenopause Journey
In honesty, I didn’t really know much about peri-menopause at that stage – menopause yes, but at 44 I was a way off that, wasn’t I? Besides which, having a Mirena coil meant I wouldn’t even know if my periods had stopped because I did’nt get them! I literally had no other symptoms of midlife hormonal changes – it was just these mood changes!
So I did my research (I’m a passionate learner – one of my top strengths!) and I concluded that the strongest possibility was that it wasn’t a recurrence of depression, but in fact, it was the start of peri-menopause… and so, I started to treat it as such. Allowing myself some self-compassion and kindness for the natural changes and embracing Mother Nature’s fun!
Over the next year, a few other symptoms started to emerge – some flushing and occasional night sweats and a change in bodily shape and weight – despite doing all the good things in terms of nutritious eating and exercise.
Menopause does not exactly extend the hand of kindness, but you know what they say “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” so peri-menopause became my friend – it was doubtless here to stay so I switched my mindset to embrace it. A change in mindset is a very powerful tool for dealing with issues head-on and helps us to PERFORM at our best.
At this stage, I haven’t needed to explore medical prescriptions yet (never say never), but boosting nutrients (especially vitamins B, C, D, magnesium and calcium) has really at the same time as eating foods to support hormones and switching up my exercise regime has had a positive impact on me.
Mindset and Menopause
The biggest thing that has helped me PERFORM at my best has been my mindset though. Embracing this chapter and working with it. Extending self-compassion to myself even though my body has changed and loving it in this new form – that’s hard and a work in progress but we’re getting there!
At this age, it feels like the odds are stacked against us; like Mother Nature has a different agenda and the statistics around mental health and suicide tell a huge and sad story of lives lost. But maybe, if we embrace the changes in emotions and moods, treat them with the kindness they deserve and get curious about the possibility that peri-menopause or menopause could be part of the cause, we could not only start to flourish in our lives, we could also start to save lives.
Curiosity and mindset are key at every age, but especially in midlife. It doesn’t have to be a crisis – we can start to prepare by opening ourselves up to the possibility of more, the possibility of working with nature and our body and not against them, the possibility of flourishing. And by building our resilience and being flexible in our approach to midlife, we can start to build our emotional fitness and protect our mental health.
For more on resilience at midlife read my blog ‘Resilience: Your Midlife Superpower’
Our mindset is absolutely everything – so make the choice to embrace the fabulousness of midlife and roll with it!
Tabby Kerwin is an award-winning mindset coach and best-selling writer. As well as writing and speaking she is the owner and Director of the creative portfolio business Mode for…
For more information on Tabby and her work visit www.tabbykerwin.co.uk