Mental Health Blogs

Women, Hormones, and Mental Illness

I sort of wanted to title this post, “Hormonal Changes Women Experience Throughout the Month Impact our Mental Illness”AKA PMS. Now, I could not do this for a couple of reasons: That’s a bit wordy and first and foremost I want men to read it too. Men can get kind of icky about these things, but keep reading because as you probably already know, the women in your life go a little crazy sometimes. And, I believe, women struggle with their mental illness to a higher degree based on hormonal fluctuations.

The Impact of Hormones on Mental Illness

When you live with a mental illness, PMS hormonal changes can be disruptive and even debilitating.First, I want to point out that I am not excluding men, men have hormones too, but women have monthly cycles and these cycles can determine our mood and our state of mental health. When you live with a mental illness these changes can be disruptive and even debilitating.

I really (stress that) did not want to bring myself into this blog. I had the idea written down for at least a year. Sitting in my notebook while I thought about pursuing it every month. Ahem. I have said it before and here I go telling you again: I believe that in order to write these blogs my own experience is important. And so is yours. We need to be able to talk openly and relate to one another.

When I was younger, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of twelve, I was hit with puberty around the age of fourteen. I was dealing with all of the hormonal changes as well as a mental illness that was not yet stabilized. It was madness. It was hard for my psychiatrist to determine what was normal hormonal behavior exhibited by teenagers and what were symptoms of mental illness.

Hormones affect symptoms of mental illness in women
Twenty-seven years old now, things are better, but talking to my sisters and female friends I am certain I experience more negative psychological and physical symptoms. Many women who live with a mental illness will tell you the same thing–depending on the time of the month, they might tell you with a little edge to their voice.

Point in Case: Hormones impact our mental health.

How Do Women With a Mental Illness Exhibit Hormonal Changes?

I do not need to go into detail and I hope I still have some of you reading this. We often experience more  severe negative changes and this can make our lives unmanageable.

Common symptoms:

>Depression. Unlike many women who feel ‘blue’ during this time some women with mental illness find life spins upside down. They might describe ‘blue’ as feeling ‘black’

>Anxiety

>Insomnia or sleeping to much

>Changes in appetite

>A surplus of energy; a lack of energy

>Confusion

The list is extensive and mimics untreated mental illness. Unfortunately, many women who take medication cannot take the pill form of birth control–the first rate treatment for severe hormonal symptoms– because it interacts with their medication or causes mood swings. This includes myself.

Practicing Self-Care When Hormonal Changes Occur

Women need to plan their mental health care around monthly hormonal changesWorking around hormonal symptoms, monthly changes in mood and our physicality, can lesson mental illness symptoms and because of this, it’s important to plan ahead. After all, we will experience these changes until we cross over and enter menopause which, according to my mother, is a heck of a lot harder.

>Track your cycle: write down when mood changes occur, when they are worse and when you feel best during the month. Record these results and talk to your psychiatrist. If a woman struggles to a high degree it is often recommended she move a certain medication up two weeks of the month. Remember that we do have options if we are willing to explore them.

>Eat properly and exercise. Exercising releases endorphins that increase dopamine–our brains “happy drug”. Eat some damn chocolate if you want! Chocolate makes me happy. I am certain of this.

>Talk to other women. Whether we live with a mental illness or not we all experience changes in mood.

Finally…put a sign on your bedroom door: “BAD TIME OF THE MONTH. WATCHING REALITY TV AND WRITING DEPRESSING POETRY. PLEASE LEAVE OR LEAVE CHOCOLATE OUTSIDE OF MY DOOR. THANKS.”

Kidding about the last bit. Sort of.

It’s important to understand that mood changes are normal in women and men but women, by our very chemistry, experience more, and when living with a mental illness we need to practice self-care when struggling.

Woman all experience symptoms differently and so too do we treat them in unique ways. Share your experiences. After all, if we can openly discuss mental illness we can discuss this!

This entry was posted in Embracing Mental Health Recovery, Hormones and Mental Illness, Lifestyle Changes, Recovery Issues and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Women, Hormones, and Mental Illness

  1. cindyaka says:

    Hi Natalie! I remember being a total witch when I had my cycle. I never knew what kind of mood I’d be in; I was on antidepressants (misdiagnosed with depression instead of the correct diagnosis of bipolar)which just exacerbated my symptoms and made everyone around me miserable. I am now in menopause and correctly diagnosed and medi-cocktailed, and I find everything to be much more balanced. I can live with the menopause symptoms and find my mood is much better.

  2. mef123 says:

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. I haven’t been doing well for a couple of months now and the past three weeks have been worse because of med changes. The last few days have been downright awful. Crying and sleeping non-stop. It’s that time of the month plus I have a cold. I was wondering what was going on, this month is worse than others. I now know that I am not alone. My mood is so crazy right now, it’s scary. I also have the confusion thing so if this doesn’t make any sense, please excuse me. Thank you so much for writing this, it does help to see that I am in good company.

    Michele

  3. cindyaka says:

    Hi Michelle! I’m sorry you are struggling and not feeling well. I hope you fell better soon, and that meds kick in for you. I wish many blessings for you.
    Cindyaka

  4. Hi, Michele,
    So glad you can relate (well, wish you could not!) but I know so many women struggle with this! It makes perfect sense…some months are better than others. I just check the calendar and can pin point when I feel bad compared to other months and it makes me feel a bit better—a little bit:) Hang in there! Women’s bodies do amazing things but also things that mess with our emotions!
    Thanks for the comment,
    Natalie

  5. “Total witch” haha. I agree. I think my partner may have hidden in the closet. It’s great we can talk about this openly! Nothing to be ashamed of.
    Thanks for your comment.
    Sincerely,
    Natalie

  6. Amy says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing about this. I suffer from PMDD and BiPolar II and two weeks before my period, I become a depressed, negative, suicidal thinking, mega, mega, super King Kong uber biotch. I’m extremely irritated with everyone and everything and generally end up yelling at my son or boyfriend for no reason. Everything sucks. My life is worthless. My job is pointless. I have never done anything right in my life. My boyfriend better stay far, far away from me. I’m a horrible mother. I can’t leave the house. I’m exhausted. I sit at work like an exhausted zombie. I spend the weekend in bed hiding from life and eating everything I can get my hands on.

    Once my period starts, the cloud lifts. I can physically and mentally feel my hormones balance out. This is extremely disruptive to my life and even though I stay on my meds during this time, it seems they don’t help at all. I didn’t know you could adjust your medication during that time to ease the symptoms. I’m going to talk to my psychiatrist about this on my next appointment. I’m not sure people around me realize just how awful this is to go through every month. I’m relieved to hear that it’s real and hopefully can be treated.

  7. joelle says:

    I must have prePMS bipolar syndrome. I go from crying to anger. I yell at my husband asking why he can’t give me attention, then when he does, I verbally push him away. My mind races into thoughts of this relationship won’t last, to what is wrong with me/him. My husband doesn’t believe that hormones have anything to do with a womans mood swings. When I cry he sort gives me the “suck it up” attitude. I tell him I’m a woman and women have different emotional ways… he calls it an excuse. But when I get close to my cycle I will either cry for days or get angry and irritated at everything around me.

  8. Amy,I could write an identical comment, so I was amazed to read it, as well as relieved to know I am truly not alone.
    I finally found out about PMDD, earlier today, at my psychiatrist’s appointment. After reading about it online and reading your blog, Amy, I can now understand the reality of what has been happening to me for the past year or so! I told my psychiatrist, just knowing what it is and being aware that it does not mean my mental illness is out of control and being “untreated” (I am diagnosed with ADD and Bipolar with some minor OCD tendencies).
    Now that I know on day 14 or 15 my difficulties will come about, I can work on increasing my exercise, force myself to go to bed at a decent time, and reassure myself it is temporary and normal (especially at almost 43 yrs. of age)!
    The symptoms of PMDD fit like a glove, so I wish I had known about it sooner, but now is better than NEVER! I wonder if an increase in Prozac during the two weeks before my menstruation begins would be a helpful option (I have been asking if I should increase it for the past couple , of months to my doctor, even before he told me about PMDD, but he doesn’t seem to think I need to).
    Thank you for writing about this, Natalie, I too feel that it could not have come to my attention at a better time!!!!!!

  9. Kathy says:

    Hi,
    I just found this website. I am 55 and had a complete hysterectomy 3 years ago. I was put on hormone replacement therapy and things were ok for awhile but then my body wasn’t absorbing the estrogen from the patch so my doctor put me on a bioidentical estrogen compound cream which worked pretty well. In March of this year on my 55th birthday, things really started to fall apart. I didn’t want to go to my job, I was ruminating on everything in my life that I felt had gone wrong or that I had screwed up on. I was worried about health Insurance because I needed to pay a lot of money for prescriptions and my boss did not offer health insurance. I started obsessing about retirement and how my husband and I were going to make it. For 2 months I was on a roller coaster until my sister brought me to the hospital for panic attacks and I had myself admitted for 9 days. I thought that they were going to deal with my hormones, depression and anxiety but all they wanted to focus on was my mental state. They told me that my hormones were not playing a role in my mental state and since I had been taking Ativan for anxiety because of some of the side effects of the meds that I was on, they thought that I was an addict which I was not and my doctor had prescribed them for the anxiety. So I was disappointed that the psychiatrists did not want to tie the hormones to the anxiety and menopause. I came home and am trying to learn how to not be anxious by taking classes such as yoga, meditation, and exercising even though I don’t really want to do much of anything. I am waiting for a spot to open at a clinic at University of CA at San Francisco that specializes in mood disorders related to hormones. Maybe someone will believe me there and help me. If there is a waiting list, obviously I am not the only woman going through this like I have been believing for awhile because most women I know breeze through menopause but they haven’t had a complete hysterectomy either. I appreciate your time of reading my story and hope for some positive feedback. I, also, want to start a menopause support group in Santa Rosa CA. if anyone is interested or in the area. The internet is fine but I want to talk face to face and have physical contact with other women. There still seems to be a stigma about menopause.
    Thanks,
    Kathy

  10. Amy VT says:

    Ohmygosh I can’t believe I hadn’t found this article before! To the author and the commenters I can TOTALLY relate! I have chronic depression, but it seems the week before my period starts, like clockwork, I get depressed more easily, more fatigued, bloated and irritable. When my depression is somewhat under control I can handle it ok, but if not it just knocks me down and I have to take a break from stress and work. At least it’s good to know I’m not imagining this!

  11. Brenda Stiefvater says:

    Kathy
    Hello sister! I didn’t have a hysterectomy but I am going on my 3rd year of the same symptoms. I live in Las Vegas and wish I was closer. I moved here 4 years ago from South Dakota almost by myself. My family was destroying me; my mom is narcissistic, maybe even a sociopath then my dad changed, etc, just a very dysfunctional family. I did great my 1st yr! I felt a peace and contentment, and I tried to peacefully move out of my mom’s life cuz I started figuring out her evil , viscous game she’d been playing with me for my whole life. I even ended up beating her at her game but she doesn’t believe that I know everything and so does my dad. Otherwise he wouldn’t ask/demand that I lie to make her feel good about herself. I offered to come back and go to counseling with her because I want a good relationship with my family. My dad wouldn’t even come to my wedding because of her. Anyway I was having to deal with the fact that I just realized my mom sabotaged my life and relationships back home then my this from my dad??? And I had to almost babysit my mom when she went through menopause and my dad said her mom had a rough time too. And I don’t know when the menopause started and the depression and anxiety from having to accept my parents and what they did to me! I got to where I could only sleep about 2-3 hours a week! Yes in a week. I was still kidding myself about my dad’s role; I was my whole families scapegoat for 46 years. 2 months ago my brother tried to play his sick little game with me, I finally saw the light with him too. I just started sleeping normal all of a sudden about a week or 2 ago, from none to normal in 1 night? I had to go to that painful place in my soul I had to admit my dad’s part in my pain. It hurt bad and it was the last place I wanted to go but I finally realized I couldn’t just get over and get on with my life until I was honest with myself – no one ever wants to think let alone accept the fact their parents would or could hurt and betray them the way my parents did me. But ever since I went there I’ve been sleeping better than ever before. And I feel hope where had started wondering if I’d ever get better. I only had to babysit my mom for 3 months. She won’t take any medication. I’ve been on an antidepressant for a year or so, it only helped a little. Sleeping medicine either didn’t work at all or it messed me up so much I started sleep walking, sleep driving, or violent with no memory of it the next day.
    Sorry I’m rambling but I got so excited just knowing I’m not alone. We got to this point in different ways but my menopause has been exactly like yours. Could there be something in your life adding to the Your emotional problems? It wouldn’t have to be with your parents, a best friend a 1st boyfriend? As a child I learned ways of coping with my mom’s treatment of me but some times the pain was too much for me to deal with at the time so I tucked that pain away to fester. After 2 years of no sleep, I was so excited I even took naps and still slept normal all last weekend. And my attitude, my mood, my Outlook on life, but especially the way I treat myself is changing. And I realized I didn’t have to decide now how I’m going to feel about my family for the rest of my life. At this point in my life my parents are detrimental to my well-being, and when I’m healthy again maybe I’ll feel differently. ..
    I had to face reality, immerse myself to cry and feel sad for that poor little girl. For now I’m feeling my parents don’t deserve me! I was their scapegoat for so long when I just sold my home and said goodbye I thought they would be happier with me out of all 3 of them they were offended that I would choose to move 1500 mi away. I couldn’t be there scapegoat that far away. And I know mom expected me to come running home after a year, and when I didn’t, the harassing email I would get from her,I realized she was emailing me cuz she wasn’t smart enough to realize I could print them out on my new printer and show dad everyone of them. And you should have heard her freak out! I was bluffing I had never showed interest or talked to her about getting a computer I accessed Internet through my smartphone. She was pleading begging lying and denying all at the same time. No Brenda, no! It’s like she’s so worried but he already knows and he’s dealing with being with my mom 24/7 since he retired and I’m not close enough to shove her off on. I almost feel sorry for him but he chose to marry her not me, and don’t throw me under the bus to make his life easier. I just got married for the 1st time at 50. And I did a shotgun wedding at the gun store for my dad – it was a little dig because he’s so into guns! And when it came to getting married I wasn’t normal, I never dreamed of the day that was supposed to be the most special day of my life. My mom was such a control freak I vowed if I ever got out I’d never ever let anyone take me that low again. Well I was single and self sufficient until 10 yrs ago. We were going to marry when we 1st got to Vegas but I had told my dad he could pick my date so he couldn’t use hunting or fishing season for an excuse. He flat out refused! I resorted to crying and begging my dad to come to my wedding. He finally said he had 2 days open in 2 wks. Then I needed a 30 day notice for the chapel I had chosen, I still had no idea what I was going to wear, at 50, a wedding dress seems too much and when I saw the new shotgun weddings- having your pics taken with weapons, it’s very different, but I did it just for dinner dad. Then I sent my wedding pic to their little hometown newspaper. Haven’t even gotten a congrats let alone a card or gift. Once in awhile it helps to lower myself to their standards but learned the hard way 2 wrongs don’t make a right. And even though they’ve hurt me horribly I cannot purposely be mean to hurt them back! The last time my mom caught me by surprise on a down day, her sociopathic tactics kicked in and I was so unprepared I went home and started an email saying as many hurtful things as I could come up with! I couldn’t even send it!
    The reason I suspect she may be sociopathic is because she can’t feel remorse or regret. She made me cry so many times and then laughed in my face and called me a baby! But when she made her 6 month old great grandson cry and then laughed in his face I asked her in front of everyone what her problem was why did she feel so happy making some one let alone daughter or baby grandson, cry. I had to explain that most human beings aren’t that thrilled with hurting ppl and that it’s not normal to be so. I know if I do ever go home I will have to wait until I’m strong enough to set up boundaries and make her or I should say them stick to them! I don’t know when or if I will ever go home For now I need to take care of me and I can work the rest out later.
    And I finally made significant progress, I thought my sleep would come back a couple hours at a time. I wake up and go to bathroom get a drink and go right back to sleep, I didn’t realize I had the ability to control my whole sleep system, by how I feel about myself. At least not to the point where I go like 2+yrs and can’t sleep for days at a time. Then I would only crash out for 2-3 hours. And go for days with barely even dozing let alone getting some good sleep to make up for all I was missing. I don’t know how a body could go on.
    Anyway if u want to get a hold of me let me know. I don’t know if you have found anyone close, I have no idea how many of us are out there. I thought it was hereditary according to my dad. Haha I was gonna be ready for it! Ha the funniest thing I’ve ever thought! Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

  12. louise says:

    I hate my pcos n pms god when it comes I have really bad anxiety mixed in with bad head ackes and dippession this is really driving me mad I want them out im fine with out it

  13. Lisa Boutin says:

    Getting a hormone implant saved my life (Birth control). My official diagnoses are, Bipolar, PTSD, Aspergers, Severe migraines, High Blood Pressure and PMDD. I am on Sertraline (Antidepressant), Epilim (Mood stabilizer and greatly diminishes intensity of migraines), Blood pressure tablets, (helps migraine too.), and a HORMONE Implant (aka birth control) for PMDD which was not diagnosed until 2008 (age 44) and from which I had been suffering from since age 16 as I got WAY more suicidal and and crazy depressed. My sister would always remind me when I was on my period or ask me if I was, when I was suicidal. IT was nearly ALWAYS that time of the month. I just put it down to PMD and thought it was my fault as with everything else.
    Since I have been on Setraline (changed from Prozac for monetary reasons, but it actually works better so good for me.). for the last two years with a hormone implant, I have not (For the first time in my life !) been suicidally depressed. Wow I am now 50 and this is the first two years In my life that I have been stable ! Been through countless doctors, medications etc. Two doctors changed and saved my life by diagnosing the PMDD and Aspergers in 2008 after my 3rd serious suicide attempt and 6 week stay in a psychiatric ward. I am so glad. Why did the countless doctors, psychs, through the years miss these critical diagnoses ??? Note of interest: In all three suicide attempts I was admitted to psychiatric ward and the next day in the ward my period started. Coincidence ??? Who knows . Anyhow everyone is different and has different chemistry and neurology so PMDD treatment can change your life. Who Knew ? It saved mine.

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