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Burned out, depressed or simply perimenopausal?

Women in their 40s with unexplicable symtoms tend to get a diagnose of burnout syndrome or depression. Maybe it´s something else? Maybe it is the perimenopause? The lack of knowledge in the medical society and workplaces about what hormonal fluctuations can cause with women may have resulted in that we have a whole generation wrongly put on antidepressants.

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Photo: Photographer Magnus Ragnvid
Photo: Photographer Magnus Ragnvid

When I was 42 years old something was going on in my body that I didn´t recognize at all. I suddenly got severe insomnia, sudden panic attacks and a feeling of not recognizing myself which lead my GP to the conclusion that I was either depressed or burnt out. She prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills but I refused to take them. I started my own research (as I am a medical writer) but it took me almost ten years to understand what I have been through. Meanwhile I realized that I was not alone. Women started to share their stories on social media, articles were written and I suddenly realised that I had found my purpose. I wanted to help women to understand what happens in their bodies through perimenopause, a period that can last up to 10 (and in severe cases 15 years) before menopause and make them aware that it is really common to be misdiagnosed as I was. So I wrote a book with the title Perimenopower where I combine my own journey with medical facts. My book is now translated to seven languages and I want my story to help other women through the transition. If I can help one woman with my book the struggle was worthwhile.

But the lack of knowledge about the transition is not only in Sweden where I come from but from all over. In the UK the menopause warrior Diane Danzebrink and her team started the campaign #makemenopausematter to improve knowledge and understanding as she had the same experience as I had. It has led to the government deciding to add it to secondary schools sex and relationship lessons and more changes will come in the near future. The next step is to see that working places get more knowledge and not just dismiss the symtoms that occur as something else.

We all know that menopause is something that usually occurs around 50, but we don´t seem to understand that it´s not the day your periods ends that is the worst, the symptoms can come so much earlier. We don´t acknowledge that the rockiest part of the transition is the perimenopause – the years before and around your period ends. During this period of time your hormones swing immensely and can lead to symtoms like mood disturbances, insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety and so on. MD:s all over the world seem to use antidepressant as first hand medication when a woman in her 40:s in tears, who hasn´t slept for a couple of days, filled with anxiety seeks help. I think this is something we need to talk more about. We need to stop the overprescription of antidepressants to woman over 40. If you are diagnosed with a clinical depression you should of course take your medication but if you are in perimenopause and have depressive tendencies there are far more options than to go on the AD-track.

In my book I describe the lifestyle changes I did regarding diet and physical exercise. With small changes you can have great results. Decreasing red meat will for example help you with your hot flashes. Not exercising too late in the evenings will help you sleep better. And to slow down with yoga and mindfulness might be a miracle for your health. Eventually you might want to try HRT (hormone replacement therapy) so I offer you the latest research so that you can make a wellgrounded decision. It is your body and remember that knowledge is power. I want women all over the world to understand their bodies through the transition and what they do can do be at their best so for next generations to come – the antidepressant won´t be the answer.

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