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.

10 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!

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