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Article. Published on May 09, 2018.

Women’s Mental Health

By 2020, the World Health Organization predicts that 20% of the Indian population will suffer from a mental illness (source) . Women are 25% more likely to be affected by mental illness than men. This is particularly true for common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. These are further exacerbated by hormonal disturbances experienced by women.

The hormonal levels in women change in accordance with their monthly fertility cycles. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone influence a woman’s reproductive health (affecting menstruation, pregnancy and menopause) and, along with other hormones, may also impact their mood and behaviour. Illnesses like depression and anxiety have been linked to hormonal fluctuations, which could indicate why women are more susceptible to these disorders.

The main disorders that impact women’s mood and behaviour include:

Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)

PMS refers to a combination of symptoms that women experience in the days leading up to their menstrual period. It is estimated that as many as 3 in 4 women have experienced some form of PMS. The common behavioural and emotional symptoms of PMS include mood swings, feeling upset, anxious or irritable, and having tiredness or trouble sleeping (source). Other symptoms include social withdrawal, poor concentration and crying spells. Several factors have been seen to contribute to this condition including cyclic changes in hormones as well as chemical changes in the brain. Women with severe PMS are also likely to have undiagnosed depression (source).

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

An estimated 5% - 8% of women experience symptoms that can disable them, affecting their work or social functioning. Many women in this group meet diagnostic criteria for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) (source). Among women who suffer from PMDD, mood and behavioral symptoms such as irritability, depressed mood, tension, and labile mood are common (source).

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that causes infertility, obesity, and excessive facial hair in women (source). It can also lead to severe mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Research indicated that women with PCOS are particularly at the increased risk of depression & mood swings (source), while other symptoms of PCOS, such as the increased hair growth and weight gain can affect an individual’s confidence and self esteem.

Hypothyroidism

In women, particularly, hypothyroidism manifests by way of symptoms such as weight gain and depression. 1 in 8 women are likely to develop hypothyroidism. Mood swings, sleeping difficulties and memory problems are other effects of having an underactive thyroid gland.
While hormonal changes are contributing factors to depression and anxiety, it is important to keep in mind that some of these illness can be helped, to a certain extent, by incorporating lifestyle changes. For example, the lack of iodine in one’s diet is the leading worldwide cause of Hypothyroidism. Furthermore, recently, PCOS has been reinterpreted as a lifestyle disorder that can be significantly improved upon by regular exercise and a healthy, well-balanced diet.

If you, or anybody you know has been experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, please contact a mental health professional. To find mental health professionals in your areas, please click here.
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