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Breaking the Stigma: Talking About Mental Health in Midlife

This year marks 10 years since my mum passed away from Motor Neurone Disease/ Lou Gehrig’s disease. It also marks 10 years since I had my breakdown and ended up on leave from work for 4 months. It has been a long journey, but with yoga, meditation, friends and weekly therapy, I made the slow recovery. As May is Mental Health awareness month, I thought I should talk about my own journey.

Prior to my mum’s illness, my brother had committed suicide, leaving me in shock. He seemed so happy and jolly all the time. He was usually the one calming me down after an argument with my mum, and he was the peacemaker. What I didn’t know, that behind the façade he was hiding a dark secret and struggled with his own mental health. I am the same. Behind this happy façade, is a person sometimes barely holding it all together. Despite my outward appearance and cheerful nature, I fight the demons daily.

I now worry about my kids’ own mental health, and am trying to raise them to know that not every day has to be sunny, however when we have those demons creep in, we need to talk. I will be there always for them to listen and to hold them and to know that they are alright and they aren’t a failure. Some days we just need a break. Just like we might miss work or school for the stomach bug, we sometimes need to take a day off for the mental bug…. a mental health day.

Last year, I started noticing a cycle in my dark days. Always right before my period, I would hit a real low. It took me a few months to notice, but one day it was so dark I really struggled to motivate myself to get out. That’s when I decided to visit my GP and talk about HRT. It wasn’t just my mood. I was bone-tired, fatigued and heavy. Despite the yoga and meditation, I couldn’t get myself out of it. Going on HRT has helped massively. Perimenopause support is a combination of holistic living with yoga, meditation and diet, and sometime we need that topper of Western Science and medication.

There seems to be such a stigma around using any form of medication when it comes to women’s’ health and mental health lately- be it anti-depressants, HRT and even whether we choose to use an epidural during labour! I always say, there is no medal at the end! Do what your body needs. I am not here to tell you that you HAVE to take and medication. However, as a psychologist friend of mine said, if it were diabetes, you wouldn’t hesitate to take the insulin…so why is your mental health any different?

As women reach midlife, they may encounter a variety of changes and transitions that can impact their mental health. Midlife is often characterized as a time of reflection, as people assess their accomplishments and goals, and consider the path ahead. While this introspection can be valuable, it can also lead to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.

In addition to these existential concerns, midlife can also be accompanied by physical changes that can impact mental well-being. As the body ages, it may become more difficult to maintain physical health, leading to chronic pain or illness. These physical changes can also affect one's self-image, leading to feelings of dissatisfaction or low self-esteem.

Furthermore, midlife can also be a time of significant stress. Many midlife women are juggling the demands of work, family, and personal obligations, all while trying to navigate the challenges of aging. These stressors can contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

The causes of depression in women are complex and can be attributed to a variety of factors. Biological factors such as hormonal changes during menopause can contribute to the development of depression in women. In my Masterclass, I discussed the fact that we have oestrogen receptors all over our body, including our brain. With the decline of oestrogen in our midlife, this affects our brain, not only causing hot flashes and brain fog, but can also bring on bouts of depression and anxiety. Additionally, women are more likely to experience chronic stress due to the demands of work, family, and caregiving responsibilities, which can increase the risk of depression and anxiety

It is important for women to prioritize their mental health and seek support when needed. This may involve speaking with a mental health professional, joining a support group, or engaging in stress-reducing activities such as meditation or yoga. Additionally, building strong social connections can be a powerful way to support mental health in midlife. These social connections can be made in your weekly yoga class, or any other weekly group. Research has shown that social isolation is a risk factor for depression and other mental health issues, and that maintaining meaningful connections with others can have a protective effect.

It is important for everyone to realise that life circumstances can cause us to become depressed, and it’s not something to be ashamed of. We need to talk more about it. That is why in my yoga classes we go for coffee 3 times a week. Sometimes we even go over to our local watering hole after an evening class. We need the chance to unload and support one another.

Mental health should not be taboo, nor should we feel bad for needing to take a day off.

Please take care of your mental health and support one another. There’s only one of you. And if you know someone is having a bad day, offer them a cuppa and a hug. I still remember the last hug my brother gave me, and I regret every day that he didn’t have the courage to speak up.

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