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'I was called Monster Mum.' I've had reproductive depression 3 times. Here's what it's like.

This story includes discussions about depression and suicidal thoughts. It might be distressing for some readers. 

It was day 168 with no periods and my mood was dangerously low. My thoughts turned dark and, although I knew I wouldn’t follow through on them, they still scared me. A painful dragging feeling sat in my chest and no matter what I did or how much fun I had, the sadness wouldn’t shift.

I’ve had clinical depression several times before and I recognised the melancholic track in my head. "They’d be better off without you." "I can’t do this anymore" "I’m so tired, I just want it all to stop." I didn’t feel at risk of self harm, but as a health writer, I’ve been researching menopause and peri- long enough now to know the highest suicide rate for females in Australia is in those aged 50–54. Right at the average age of menopause.

Watch: Mia Freedman talks about Perimenopause. Post continues after video.

It’s a worrying statistic. How often are untreated hormonal issues the cause?

"Perimenopause is a vulnerable time," menopause specialist, Dr. Linda Dear, explains. "The highest rates of depression in women occur during the years around menopause."

"The mood symptoms can start up to five years before any of the telltale physical signs, like hot flushes or a change in periods. So women are often diagnosed with clinical depression or anxiety - and perimenopause gets missed," she says. 

Could it be reproductive depression? 

Reproductive depression–the term for hormone-related depression–is almost unheard of. 

I’m one of the unlucky women who has experienced it at every stage of my life: my teens, during and after pregnancy, and even a scary bout of postnatal rage thrown in as an added unwelcome bonus.

The postnatal rage changed my personality, leaving me screaming at my family at unexpected times. I’d be my usual calm self, just going through the typical at-home-mum routine I’d done for years, and then, without any reason, the rage would hit.

"You’re a brat!" I spat at my oldest daughter one day as we ate dinner at the table together. My family all looked at me in shock. I’d never spoken to her that way before and she’d done nothing to bring the accusation on. I slammed my hands down beside my plate as adrenaline flooded my body. My daughter burst into tears, and still raging, I took my dinner into my bedroom. We never knew when I’d turn into 'Monster mum' – a term my four-year-old daughter started using. It broke my heart.

I hid in my room as often as I could, tacked a "Danger, keep out" sign on the door, and booked a doctor’s appointment. When the appointment finally came, I burst into tears as soon as I entered his office.

"I’m like a different person," I said as the young, unfamiliar doctor passed me a box of tissues, head tilted in compassion. "I’m scared of myself." I was embarrassed to admit it to a stranger–and had convinced myself I was experiencing a psychotic break–but I was so desperate I didn’t care.

He booked me in for an urgent endometrial ablation and just six weeks later they fried the lining of my womb in a 30-second, day surgery. For 50 per cent of women, an ablation fixes their hormonal mood-related issues instantly. I was one of those 50 per cent. It was the miracle I needed. I was me again.  

I didn’t think about menopause much at all, even when my period became irregular. I thought it was a decade off–51 is the average age for menopause and I was in my early 40s–but in the back of my mind; I worried it would turn me into a screaming, unstable person again, terrorizing my family and eventually ruining any relationship I was in at the time.

Listen: The Quicky speaks to two experts, and a woman whose own isolating experience of perimenopause led her to start a business. Post continues below.

300 days without a period and my mood was plummeting.

I’d been keeping an eye on it, but my mood wasn’t improving. No rage, thankfully, but a constant dark cloud. Although, I had a feeling antidepressant weren’t the right option this time.

I’m not opposed to antidepressants, even after the new research that they don’t correct chemical imbalances in quite the way we once thought they did. If they work, and they have for me in the past, then they’re life-saving. 

But this seemed different. 

Talking with menopause specialist, Dr. Linda Dear, I learned antidepressants often don’t work for women when hormones are the root cause of their depressed feelings.

Reproductive depression is different from clinical depression. Clinical depression, Linda Dear says, is a term that’s used more carefully now in the medical world. Most of us have 'low mood' at some point and it doesn’t mean we’re clinically depressed. 

My low mood days had become problematic enough to talk to my doctor about it though. There’s no reason to tolerate months of feeling awful. My doctor agreed and prescribed me Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT). 

"HRT is the most effective treatment for all the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause - including the mood ones," says Linda Dear. "In the UK, HRT is now the first line of treatment for the mood symptoms of menopause, not antidepressants."

Not everyone can or wants to take hormonal therapy (MHT), but we need to know it’s available and for many women, far more effective than antidepressants for reproductive depression. For me, it’s been life-changing.  

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health issue, please seek professional help and contact your GP. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

Linda Dear is currently running a Menopause survey for Australians and New Zealanders to help advance the conversation around this stage of life. You can take it here.

Feature Image: Kelly Eden/

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