Risk for new onset of depression during the menopausal transition: the Harvard study of moods and cycles

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Apr;63(4):385-90. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.63.4.385.


Context: Transition to menopause has long been considered a period of increased risk for depressive symptoms. However, it is unclear whether this period is one of increased risk for major depressive disorder, particularly for women who have not had a previous episode of depression.

Objective: To examine the association between the menopausal transition and onset of first lifetime episode of depression among women with no history of mood disturbance.

Design: Longitudinal, prospective cohort study.

Setting: A population-based cross-sectional sample.

Participants: Premenopausal women, 36 to 45 years of age, with no lifetime diagnosis of major depression (N = 460), residing in 7 Boston, Mass, metropolitan area communities. Main Outcome Measure Incidence of new onset of depression based on structured clinical interviews, Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale scores, and an operational construct for depression.

Results: Premenopausal women with no lifetime history of major depression who entered the perimenopause were twice as likely to develop significant depressive symptoms as women who remained premenopausal, after adjustment for age at study enrollment and history of negative life events. The increased risk for depression was somewhat greater in women with self-reported vasomotor symptoms.

Conclusions: The current study suggests that within a similarly aged population of women with no lifetime history of depression, those who enter the menopausal transition earlier have a significant risk for first onset of depression. Further studies are needed to determine more definitively whether other factors, such as the presence of vasomotor symptoms, use of hormone therapy, and the occurrence of adverse life events, independently modify this risk. Physical symptoms associated with the menopausal transition and mood changes seen during this period may affect many women as they age and may lead to a significant burden of illness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Boston / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cost of Illness
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Menstrual Cycle / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Perimenopause / psychology*
  • Premenopause / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Factors