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New treatment for women suffering from menopause-related depression

HOUSTON – For some women, the side effects of menopause can range from no symptoms at all to hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats and memory loss. But for other women, there is a darker side to menopause. 

Lisa Burke knows this all too well. After being in menopause for several years, she spent the next two years trying to get well. 

For Burke, her symptoms started with crippling anxiety. 

“Anxiety for me was like being plugged into an electrical socket. Twenty-four seven, seven days a week,” she said. 

Then came the splitting headaches, and uncontrollable crying—for 7 1/2 months.

“Every single day, for seven and a half months for one reason or another,” Burke said. 

Things got so bad, Burke had to quit her job and was housebound. 

The normal life she had once known, was gone. Even reading her Bible, which she truly enjoyed, was a struggle. 

“I quit my exercise program which was the other part of my daily routine. I quit cooking, I quit life as you know it. I could not function. I could not be alone," she said. 

After months of searching for an explanation, she was diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder. 

According to Burke, doctors also said her estrogen levels had crashed to zero. She was given estrogen and was hopeful that would be the quick fix she needed to feel better again. 

“I thought 'Hallelujah. They're gonna fix me. They're gonna give me some estrogen and I'm gonna be my great self again,'" she said. "And that simply was not to be, they gave me the estrogen but it did not get my brain back.”

Then on a visit home, Burke's friend read an article in O Magazine, which quoted local psychiatrist Dr. Lucy Puryear. Burke says the article changed her life. 

Puryear is a psychiatrist and the medical director of the Women's Place —Center for Reproductive Psychiatry at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women. 

She helps treat women suffering from depression during menopause. The big link between menopause and depression is estrogen.

“It's very interesting because as estrogen levels decline around the time of menopause, the change in hormones can actually affect both physical and mental health,” Puryear said.

According to The Menopause Center’s website, menopause comes in three stages:

  • Perimenopause — usually occurs about four years before menopause and is when a woman first starts to experience symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and irregular periods 
  • Menopause — when a woman has not had her period in 12 months, which marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years
  • Postmenopause — the years which follow menopause 

Puryear says the drop in estrogen is what causes the hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats and memory loss some women complain of during menopause. But for other women, like Burke, that same drop in estrogen can cause mental health struggles.

“A common complaint women will come in and say ‘I feel like I'm going crazy,'” Puryear said.

She also points out there are other changes in a woman’s behavior which the drop in estrogen can cause. 

“Fighting more with their partners or with their children. Finding themselves more forgetful, having more difficulty sleeping, more tearful. More hopeless about the future or just lack of looking forward to things,” Puryear said. 

Puryear and Burke worked together to find the right medication mix to treat her. The goal of treatment is always full recovery for the patient. She wants patients to know they don’t have to live this way forever. 

“Whether it's hormones, psychiatric medication, therapy, or all three. The goal is really to give the woman back the sense of herself as being herself,” she said.  

Puryear says she wants to help eliminate the stigma around menopause. She says she wants women to know it's okay…to say, they're “not feeling okay" during this transition in their lives. The first step to getting better she says, reaching out to your healthcare provider and creating a plan to treat both the physical and mental side effects of menopause. 

It worked for Lisa. She says she got her life back. 

“Now life looks glorious, it looks awesome. I am back doing Jazzercise two days a week. I do ballet and Pilates two days a week as well. I do go to Bible study one day a week. I babysit my granddaughters when I can,” Burke beamed.

For more information on Puryear and the Women’s Place, click here.