Prof. John Studd. Women's Health Clinic
clinical gynaecologist

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Dracula Depression

Dr O has two items in The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, which confirm my belief that oestrogen to psychiatrists is like garlic to Dracula. It is equally illogical. It is unbelievable that for an article on Postnatal Depression, oestrogen has a brief last paragraph footnote informing that oestrogen can act like an antidepressant by the effect upon the dopaminergic and serontonergic receptors. Indeed it does and for this and other logical reasons as well as scientific and clinical evidence that should be used in those conditions of depression in women related to changes in oestrogen levels. These will include premenstrual depression, postnatal depression and peri-menopausal depression. These have all been shown in double blind trials to be responsive, greater than placebo to transdermal oestrogens, yet the original Lancet paper showing the beneficial effect of this on postnatal depression is not featured in the text or references although the co-authors were psychiatrists, Dr Alan Gregoire and the distinguished expert on postnatal depression the late professor Chani Kumar .It is bad enough that these studies have not been repeated by those responsible for the care of depression i.e. psychiatrists but the refusal to reference and discuss such a paper is intolerable.

There is good evidence that postnatal depression, premenstrual depression and peri-menopausal depression confirm the same vulnerable women and it is a commonplace experience that depressed 45-year-old women will say that they were last well when they were last pregnant 10+ years ago. They then developed postnatal depression and were put on antidepressants. When the periods returned they developed a cyclical depression and towards the menopause the depression became less cyclical so they no longer even have 7 good days a week but every day as the depression is now continuous.

The tragedy is that these women were given antidepressants of doubtful value and certain side effects at the time of their postnatal depression. Over the years they then suffer ineffective multi-drug therapy frequently with ECT (particularly in the private sector). At this stage it is difficult for women to come off these powerful drugs, which they probably shouldn’t have had in the first place. It is true that women with postnatal depression and other types of hormone responsive depression do not have different hormone levels than those without depression. Nobody ever said that they did. It is simply a response to changes of oestrogen and no doubt progesterone in women, who, for some reason, are biochemically vulnerable to these hormonal changes.

The diagnosis of reproductive depression is not based upon blood tests but on the history relating the current depression to the history of being in good mood during pregnancy followed by postnatal depression. There is also a history of previous premenstrual depression and perhaps the history of menstrual headaches is a further clue to the cyclical and endocrinological basis for this condition.

I am very pleased that Dr. O reports that the article most read by psychiatrists last month was ‘Oestrogen relieves psychotic symptoms in women with schizophrenia’. This has of course been known for more than ten years. I am not reassured that psychiatrists have an interest in this but I would be more impressed if they actually used oestrogens for such an indication. But they do not. Similarly psychiatrists must learn how to use oestrogens for certain sorts of depression in women as an effective safe alternative to their usual armamentarium. It would surprise them to discover how frequently “bipolar depression” disappears once the cyclical mood changes of PMS are ablated by transdermal estrogens. In reality the psychiatrist’s dismissal of the evidence and refusal to study the issue further is merely a turf war resulting from their inadequate knowledge of the basic practicalities of hormone therapy.

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