Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is medically a reproductive disorder that affects young women. It is a very common disorder in India, with 1 in 5 women afflicted with it, most commonly in the age group of 20-30 years.
PCOS has also been identified as a serious cause of mental health problems among women. There has been a growing realization within the mental health community about depression that sets in with PCOS. Experts say that it needs more serious attention because there is a high risk of major depressive disorders and other psychiatric conditions if ignored.
Why Does PCOS Cause Depression?
In recent years, I have counseled an increasing number of young Indian women, who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. Too often, the problem is linked with PCOS. For the betterment of their health, it is essential that there is greater awareness about the mental health impact of PCOS along with the removal of stigma from seeking help when this happens.
The first and most obvious cause of depression in PCOS is its effect on fertility. But this is not the only cause. Several studies have shown that body image concerns are a major cause for depression among young women who suffer from PCOS.
The physical manifestations of PCOS include acne, hirsutism (excessive facial and body hair), obesity and anovulation – all of which have an impact on a woman’s self image and moods. This is especially true in adolescent, young women who are increasingly affected by the condition. The emotional distress and poor self image issues that develop on account of these symptoms causes social withdrawal and an increased risk of depression.
Getting back to the effect of PCOS that is best known, infertility is a major fear among women that greatly increases feelings of anxiety. This is a big concern amongst young women, including those in their teenage years who eventually hope to start families of their own. The pressure on women in serious relationships is even higher as spouses and in-laws often have rigid expectations with regard to having offspring. This is particularly true in Indian society, as we do have an almost unhealthy obsession with the childbearing ability of women. Thus, the fear of infertility caused by PCOS is a huge stressor.
While the diagnosis of PCOS itself can cause anxiety disorders and depression, there’s also something else at play here.
Studies have begun to uncover the role of hormones and receptors in anxiety, with researchers learning that PCOS affects the very same hormones and receptors. PCOS is an endocrinal disorder that causes hormonal imbalances, so it is not surprising that the condition could cause or increase the risk of depression, even in the absence of symptoms that affect fertility or body image. Combine the impact of hormones on moods and these unpleasant symptoms, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Other Mental Health Complications That Accompany PCOS
The risk of mental health complications developing is higher among women afflicted with PCOS because of multiple stressors – physiological (related to body), psychological (related to mind) and psychosocial (related to social interactions).
In addition to depression, studies have shown that patients are also more vulnerable to eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa, and diminished sexual satisfaction. PCOS has also been linked with psychiatric disorders like bipolar disease. Early treatment for depression can help to prevent escalation of mental health disorders.
Mental Health Care For PCOS Patients
Counseling: Mental health care is important to all of us but it’s critical for women faced with disorders like PCOS that drastically alter their quality of life in every aspect. When it comes to mental health care for PCOS patients, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors can all be of help. While some women may find great comfort from just a few counseling sessions, others could require several sessions from a psychologist. Mental health experts use a variety of approaches in addition to counseling to treat patients and one can choose experts with specializations in clinical psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, and so on.
Medications: In addition to behavioral therapy and counseling, some patients may also require treatment with medications, as many mood disorders associated with PCOS are caused by hormonal imbalances. Psychiatrists may prescribe medications to facilitate recovery, but treatment with drugs is usually used as a last resort. If you are worried about taking antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs you can always discuss the risks with your health care provider. Psychiatrists make it a point to discuss the risks and will only go ahead with a treatment plan if the patient is convinced of its efficacy.
Family Is The First Support System For Women With PCOS
A woman afflicted by depression and anxiety because of PCOS requires great support from the spouse and family members.
In PCOS, psychosocial factors cause great stress and anxiety due to pressure from families and a lack of understanding about the condition. Mood swings caused by PCOS can create conflict and friction within households, only adding to the stress. This makes it particularly important for husbands and families to also attend behavioral therapy or family sessions and marriage counseling, in addition to being aware about the condition itself.
Individuals who participate in such programs are more attuned to the needs of the patient while the patient can explore positive methods of coping with the condition. Women patients also find it easier to communicate and share their feelings in such protected environments.
Similarly, support groups have a huge role to play in improving quality of life, but there are inadequate facilities of this kind because of a lack of awareness about mental health in India. People who live in a metro can most probably find support groups in their living areas. In support groups, women share their experiences and offer comfort to each other under the supervision of a counselor or psychologist. In the absence of physical support groups, one can also use online support groups on health platforms and social media sites.
Living With PCOS
In addition to medical treatment, a lifestyle change is also required among women who are undergoing depression due to PCOS. The onus of reducing stress levels is on the patient. Of course, with the help of family counseling sessions, psychosocial stressors can be reduced, but stress levels have to be reduced on other fronts like work too.
At your workplace, avoid taking on additional responsibilities and set yourself realistic goals. Maintain a healthy work/life balance, by using your leaves when required and going on vacations from time to time. For working women it is particularly important to reduce the workload at home too. Get your spouse or other members of the family to chip in with household chores. Relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga can also help cope with the mood swings and depression. Pamper yourself occasionally with relaxing baths, massages, aromatherapy, and put aside time to pursue your hobbies.
PCOS can be effectively managed and overcome if you seek timely treatment. The most important thing you can do if you suffer from PCOS is to seek help. Don’t neglect physical, emotional or mental health symptoms of the condition. Sharing your anxiety with a trusted friend and family member can help tremendously. When it is difficult to share with people close to you, talking to an expert can be very soothing too.
At YourDOST, you can consult an expert right from the comfort of your home 24*7 with your mobile/laptop. There are doctors, counselors, and psychologists who can help you live your life to the fullest even when you’re struggling to cope with PCOS. YourDost would be happy to be a part of your journey to a happier, healthier life.