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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!

14 thoughts on “Women, Hormones, and Mental Illness”

  1. This is about a close friend – of cause.
    Where to begin?
    Since a young woman every month it was a case of TAKE COVER around her. More disturbing is the way she beat up on herself (judged, jury & executioner on herself over every little thing and more – as if that will somehow help). In turn she was hard on everyone around her at those times. When things settled, 5-7 days post eruptions, she’d review the damage and fall into despair, alone.
    In her mid 20’s, after a miscarriage, she sunk into a  suicidal depression. Every month, 1 or 2 days before her period, she’d disassociate and often self-harm (cutting). This landed her in hospital, s few times, but even her 3months under intense 24/7 Mental Health assessment & monitoring, they gave no consideration to the association between her ‘periods’ (hormones), mind and behaviour.
    She examined herself, to see if she talked herself into pre-menstrual cutting, but being very  irregular – how could she know it was exactly 1 or 2 days before her period?

    My observation over the years is that stress made these times harder for her.

    Eventually she made the connection herself, she learned NOT TO ACT on those impulses, but to WAIT, even if phasing (disassociated) because the ‘distress’ will  pass, (usually in a day or two), and it always did. Not having to deal with more scars, stitches, deeper self doubt, hospitals and social condemnation (from cutting) sure helped her outward  recovery. Worth the effort & pain it took to hold back. Relaxation exercises helped too.

    Not without set backs though. For a few months after hospital, she did cut in secret. The worst day was after one of her childhood abusers dropped by for a brief visit (to ask if her breakdown was because of what he did to her). Well, no doubt the inner turmoil at confronting these issues on her own was threatening. After he left she relapsed and cut herself deep that day but wouldn’t get help. Frightened of hospitals, re-admission & stigma, she stitched herself up, eight stitches, with needle & black cotton from her sewing box, saying it didn’t hurt, she couldn’t feel any of it. It healed ok but a long scar. I didn’t seek out help for her this time because she was NOT aiming for an artery (two distinct differences in self harm). The cutting stopped within the year.

    She did visit a specialist  gyno for help with severe premenstrual tension (PMS), but his solution was to “have a baby” “but I’m not married” she said. “Most my clients are not married” he told her. Lot a help that was!

    I often wonder if life would be better for her had she received the right help.

  2. 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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