Conversations around mental health have really stepped into the light, becoming more and more prevalent over the past few years. Thanks to social media, we’ve never been closer to one another; because of that, everyday shared experiences and challenges have received the visibility that they have always deserved. Specifically, we have shared online our shared experiences and challenges around mental health care and wellness, especially women’s.
As we’ve shined the light on mental health care, we’ve seen workplaces, friends, and family begin to provide more allowances and recognition for these mental health conditions. This change has materialized in more resources, mental health day benefits, better access to mental health care, and other critical changes. And with all of that positive change, there’s still plenty more work to be done to bridge the gap.
Another condition that has also received increased visibility, especially from social media, is PCOS – a condition often blanketed and ignored by doctors and other care team members. Thanks to social media, feminism, and the mental health movement, women have finally started to feel comfortable coming to a place of demanding more answers when it comes to women’s health. In turn, leading to increased awareness, better and faster care, and yes, in turn, more diagnoses.
With PCOS, comes a number of symptoms that have the potential to wreak havoc on the mind and body. So it comes as no surprise, that there’s a known connection between both PCOS and mental health. In fact, multiple reliable studies have found major links between mental health disorders and PCOS in women. With a world that’s still playing catch up in women’s health care for both mind and body, how can you manage both?
First, let’s learn about how PCOS works, the connection between mind and body, and how you can become the boss of your PCOS and mental health.
What is PCOS?
PCOS, also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a women’s health condition commonly characterized by a lack of periods, weight gain, and other physical symptoms. More so, it’s a women’s health condition that’s largely misunderstood. I know we all know how that feels as women, am I right babe?
This condition impacts all types of women and isn’t discriminatory to any weight, shape, race, or personality. Common symptoms of PCOS include acne, hirsutism, anovulation (lack of ovulating), irregular periods, weight gain, excess androgens, and blood sugar problems. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but you get the picture boo, it can be all-consuming.
Women suffering from PCOS are often dismissed by doctors for years as ‘just women’s troubles’. We’re fed hormonal birth control as blanket treatments, and left to ride it out. And if you’re trying to conceive, you’re forced to try fertility treatments instead of treating the underlying causes. Needless to say, there’s work to be done to understand and create better standard treatments for PCOS.
This lack of care and treatment has left a gap to be filled. Left to think about it, it’s understandable that the gap, combined with the impacts of the physical symptoms of PCOS, could be connected to mental health challenges.
The Connection Between PCOS Depression and Other Psychiatric Disorders
Like we can put together how loss or work stress can impact mental health when you think about the burdens that PCOS can wreak on the mind and body, it’s no surprise that there could be connections to poor mental health outcomes. But scientifically, how are the two connected?
As the search to understand PCOS has continued, so has the goal to create a greater understanding of mental health issues and where they stem from. As an educated, Registered Dietitian, I look to science to understand these connections. They not only help me understand how my own PCOS works (hi fellow cysters) but also how I can help serve the women with PCOS I work with. Let’s look at the science together.
First, let’s establish the connection to PCOS. A large meta-analysis of 57 studies focusing on 172,040 patients found that in this study, PCOS is associated with an increased risk of a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and increasingly worse symptoms than the general population. That’s a large impact, with several connections to different mental health conditions.
Looking further, we can begin to understand how physical symptoms of PCOS can impact our mental health. Specifically, in this 2018 study, the prevalence of anxiety and depression in their sample was 38.6% and 25.7%, approximately a third of their sample, which is significant. This study took it a step further and tried to understand the cause behind this found anxiety and depression. They determined from their study that infertility and alopecia were associated with anxiety, while acne was associated with depression. Hirsutism was associated with a lower psychological QOL, which stands for the quality of life. Overall, the impact and trends were clear as day – PCOS definitely impacts mental health.
Yet another study that was published in the Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research also looked into the impact of PCOS symptoms on mental health. Interestingly, while the previous study found strong correlations with physical symptoms, they found less visible PCOS symptoms had a significant impact. While weight gain and unwanted body hair can be distressing, the study found that irregular menstrual cycles were the symptom of PCOS most strongly associated with psychiatric problems.
How could that be?
PCOS, as we discussed, is an imbalance hormonal condition with impacts on several hormonal processes including hair growth, acne, weight, blood sugar regulation, and yes, menstrual cycles. As women, we have menstrual cycles that, yes, allow us to become fertile and regulate our uterine lining. However, these cycles are also good for other parts of our body too based on the hormones that are created during our cycles. For example, a few benefits of estrogen include blood pressure stabilization, blood flow in the brain, and bone density. Another hormone only produced after ovulation, progesterone, helps to maintain the uterine lining for pregnancy, provides healthy menstrual periods, even soothes anxiety, and helps you sleep.
Without a menstrual cycle, we miss out on these natural chemicals, leading to imbalances and irregularity. In turn, as the study showed, opening the door to psychiatric distress and mental health conditions. Women with PCOS commonly miss out on a regular flow of these hormones in the body – leaving their minds and bodies susceptible to the deficiencies that follow.
Overall, the connections between PCOS and mental health are clear.
Treating PCOS and Mental Health
As we learn more about both PCOS and mental health, we find how critical it is to be aware of both impacts. Stretching beyond the physical, the symptoms of both PCOS and mental health challenges can wreak havoc on your quality of life, work, and general health.
To prevent PCOS-induced mental health challenges, it’s important to take charge of your PCOS and the associated symptoms. But, PCOS treatment goes beyond the band-aid of birth control. You deserve more than that boo. PCOS needs to be treated at its core, working with your body in harmony to find a balance that actually works with the symptoms instead of blanketing them.
As a Registered Dietitian, and a woman with PCOS, I’ve dedicated my work to helping women Be the Boss of their PCOS. I’ve worked with thousands of cysters like us to take control of their bodies and lives. And I want you to join hand in hand with us, conquering this together. In my program, PCOS Boss Academy, I’ll work alongside you to create a lifestyle with sustainable habits that support your unique body and PCOS symptoms. Together, you can feel like yourself and feel in control.
Ready to get started?