Suicide rates in women of menopausal age have risen despite falling numbers of older women taking their own lives.
Suicide rates for women aged 45 to 54 – the most common age for perimenopause and menopause – have risen 6% in 20 years, according to the Office of National Statistic (ONS).
Over the same period, rates for over-55 women have fallen by 28%, research by Menopause Experts Group found.
Julie (not her real name) became seriously ill with depression at 53 and attempted suicide. She believes that going through menopause played a part in her illness.
“Part of me wonders about the part menopause played in my ill health, and whether I should have been treated with antidepressants or with HRT," she says.
Many women going through menopause have their symptoms - which can include exhaustion, anxiety, depression and weight gain - dismissed or misdiagnosed, leaving them to cope on their own. Alongside the physical and emotional toil of menopause, women of menopausal age can often find themselves caring for children and aging parents, and frequently find themselves isolated.
Menopause Experts Group founder Dee Murray has treated many women struggling with mental health issues during the perimenopause. She said many did not realise the impact their changing hormones had on their mental health.
“Menopause affects every woman differently, but for many it can bring unpleasant physical, emotional and psychological symptoms that can be challenging to deal with," Ms Murray said.
“Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and stress are hard to deal with, and many women will not know that they can commonly be caused by menopause. We cannot ignore what is happening or let these women suffer.
“Women who are not aware they are going through menopause can be caught off guard by feelings of worthlessness, confusion and a complete lack of confidence.
“As well as those in the medical profession, psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors need to be trained in the basic knowledge of menopause so they can identify the root causes in patients they treat.
“Women going through menopause need support from friends, family and colleagues, and we would recommend that everyone takes our free training so they are ready for whatever perimenopause and menopause throw at them.
“Many women in their 60s are happier post-menopause as the body and brain adjust to new hormone levels. This clearly has an impact on their psychology and may partly explain why suicide rates drop off later in life."
Symptoms of menopause
Low or non-existent sex drive
Women aged 45 to 54 have the highest female suicide rate, more than double the rate of those aged 15 to 19, the ONS reported.
Those aged 45 to 54 have the highest suicide rate among women, with 7.1 deaths per 100,000 females aged 45 to 49, and a rate of 6.9 for 50 to 54-year-olds. By comparison, the rate for 65 to 69-year-olds was only 3.7 per 100,000 in the latest figures.
Suicide rates for older women fell by 50% from 1981 to 1994, and rates have continued to drop since for those aged over 55.
But the rates for women aged 45 to 54 have bucked the trend, and since the late 1990s, suicide rates for 45 to 54-year-olds have been rising.
Between 1998 and 2020, rates for over-55s fell 28%, but rose by 6% for 45 to 54-year-olds.Last month, former model Penny Lancaster opened up to ITV News about her own difficult experiences with menopause."I'm getting there, I've been on treatment for two months now, but it just breaks my heart that there are so many who are suffering."
She added: "Sometimes I bawl my eyes out and I've got no reason to cry and then I feel guilty for crying because I live a very privileged life, I have no reason to be upset and crying.
"I'm not feeling sorry for myself, I don't expect people to feel sorry for me, this is just a women's issue that needs to be talked about."
Who to contact if you or someone you know needs help
Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org
Papyrus offer support for children and young people under the age of 35 over the phone on 0800 068 41 41 between 9am – midnight every day of the year. If you would rather text you can do so on 07786 209697 or send an email to email@example.com
Rethink Mental Illness offer practical advice and information for anyone affected by mental health problems on a wide range of topics including treatment, support and care. Phone 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm) or visit rethink.org
Campaign Against Living Miserably's (CALM) helpline and webchat are open from 5pm until midnight, 365 days a year. Call CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or chat to their trained helpline staff online. No matter who you are or what you're going through, it's free, anonymous and confidential.