Just came across this article – and even though it is a year old – it is still poignant and true. Do not be swayed by the 5 to 8% of women have who experience PMDD – 5 to 8% of millions of women is a significant number. And for the most part, women and girls who commit suicide are not included in that percentage. Yes, you read it right – many girls commit suicide from this debilitating disorder. The author ask what is PMS so widely understood – it is because the medical system is built on a male model. And how else do you keep 50% of the population debilitated – by shaming and keeping women from understanding the role that hormones play on our minds, moods, and behaviors. Women becomes victims of their body.
Hysteria is a word used to make women feel insane for knowing what they know. ~ Eve Ensler
It is called patriarchy. And it is failing. And it is killing women, children and the environment as well.
If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of women who suffer from this severe form of PMS – please join us at the second annual National Association for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder in Philadelphia, PA at the end of September.
Why is premenstrual syndrome still so badly understood?
As one of the 5-8% of women who suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder,
the most extreme form of PMS, I know how disabling and even life-threatening it can be. Medicine must take women’s health more seriously.
There’s a brilliant catch-all term to encompass female hormone-related physical maladies and emotional issues. It’s spouted by advertisers, joked about in pop culture, diagnosed by a weary doctor with a shrug and pharmaceutical companies claim they cure it. It’s convenient, PMS.
Strange then, that there are over 150 different symptoms of PMS from depression to backache to migraines, and still few answers about how and why these occur. Stranger still that the contraceptive pill or antidepressants are often the only solutions offered, with little explanation. How can there be this much vagueness and confusion over the female body in 2015?
Experts say that mood swings and other symptoms don’t necessarily mean abnormal hormone levels. “Every study done on women with PMS shows their circulating levels of hormones are normal,” says Dr Nanette Santoro, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at Montefiore medical centre. “But some researchers believe that certain hormone metabolites in the brain cause the mood changes – or that some women just metabolise hormones differently. No one knows for sure.” So even the most basic understanding of why hormones affect women differently is not in place.
At 13, the onset of my period brought fainting and vomiting each month with no explanation from a doctor. The solution at that time was the contraceptive pill. As a teen, I was very nearly falsely diagnosed with a mental illness, until a specialist thankfully linked my symptoms to my cycle.
It was during a doctor’s trip, when I’d brought along my mother at the request of the specialist, that I realised the depth of our confusion as a society. On learning the effects of my hormones on me, my mum’s face dropped. She’d gone her whole life feeling deeply depressed and lethargic for a week and a half every month. When she’d expressed this to my nan, she told my mum she had it too and that everyone got funny around that time, reinforcing in her a stiff-upper-lip attitude. Finally, in her 40s, my mum had the realisation that it was OK not to be OK and to get help.
The most extreme form of PMS is PMDD. Few people have heard of PMDD – premenstrual dysphoric disorder – yet it affects 5-8% of women according to the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome, and it’s likely to be under-reported, especially by women from ethnic minorities. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines PMDD as a “depressive disorder not otherwise specified”, which is anything but insightful. It’s depression, lethargy and feeling out of control between ovulation and the onset of your period.
As the definition suggests, hardly anyone knows anything about it. It’s not spoken about and seems to be lacking in research. What you will find are forums and blogs where women are desperately working out what’s wrong between themselves, sharing stories of being suicidal, self-medicating and resorting to measures as extreme as hysterectomies in their 20s and 30s because they can’t bear another month under PMDD’s strain.
When it comes to female hormones, there’s a lack of resource at every stage. First, research. Second, education and dissemination of information to young women – that PMS is not a “mental illness”, nor, contrary to what pharmaceutical companies and pop culture would have you believe, does it affect all women or even most women. But that if you do suffer from problems in your cycle, it is not shameful. We must learn how and why existing mental illnesses can be seriously exacerbated by changes in your cycle.
PMDD can be so misunderstood that the condition is frequently misdiagnosed as a mental illness like bipolar disorder. It leaves thousands of women in a dark place or suicidal for at least one quarter to half of every month.