Women’s Mental Health
People who were assigned female at birth can experience specific mental health challenges that other people do not experience. Specifically, hormonal shifts can cause mental health issues around pregnancy, periods, and menopause.
Too often in our society, people write these issues off as “just hormones” or as “dramatic.” We’re here to tell you that many people experience real mental health problems when their bodies make these shifts.
The first few days at home after having your baby (the postpartum period) are a time for rest and recovery – physically and emotionally. The postpartum period can be a time of joy and happiness, but it can also bring fatigue, sadness, anxiety and distress. During the postpartum period, about 85 percent of women experience some type of mood disturbance.
For most, the symptoms are mild and short-lived, however, 10 to 15 percent of women develop more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety. Postpartum psychiatric illness is typically divided into three categories: postpartum blues, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. Think of these disorders as existing along a continuum: postpartum blues being the mildest and postpartum psychosis the most severe form of postpartum psychiatric illness.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
PMDD is a condition in which a woman has severe depressive symptoms, irritability, and tension before menstruation. The symptoms of PMDD are more severe than those seen with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMDD affects between 3% and 8% of women during the years when they are having menstrual periods.
The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS. However, they are generally more severe and debilitating and include a least one mood-related symptom. Symptoms occur during the week just before menstrual bleeding and usually improve within a few days after the period starts.
Menopause is when your period stops permanently and is a normal part of a woman’s life. As your body transitions to menopause over several years, you may have menopause symptoms and irregular periods.
Menopause is characterized by physical symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep disturbance, and vaginal changes. Most women also experience emotional symptoms such as mood instability, increased anxiety, depression and even cognitive (memory) symptoms. Sexual dysfunction such as low libido and painful intercourse are also very common.
For most people, reproduction is a basic expectation of life, and to have a child is to continue the human life cycle. “Infertility” is a term that describes a couple who is unable to achieve pregnancy after 1 year of having regular, unprotected sex, or after 6 months if the woman is older than 35 years of age. Infertility also describes the condition of women who are able to get pregnant but unable to carry a pregnancy to term because of miscarriage, recurrent pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or other problems.
Infertility, including the inability to carry a pregnancy to term, can deeply affect the emotional and psychological well-being of women and their partners. Infertility brings with it many real or potential losses: the loss of self-esteem, the loss of a dream, the loss of close relationships, financial losses, and the loss of a sense of self as a healthy sexual being. Depression, anxiety, anger, and guilt are common responses to infertility. Group, individual and couples psychotherapy can help provide support during this period and medications can help to manage symptoms.
Mood disorders affect the whole person, from their thoughts and emotions to their family life and physical health. Women typically experience a spectrum of moods, both positive and negative. But those suffering from mood disorders are subjected to extreme positive and negative emotions along with a loss of their sense of control over their emotional experiences. The irregularity of their moods is so severe that it causes them distress and interferes with their ability to function in their lives. Symptoms tend to occur in a cyclical fashion over an individual’s life.
Today, full recovery is possible, and there are many effective treatments to choose from including medication and hormone replacement, counseling and psychotherapy, products and supplements as well as dietary and lifestyle approaches.
If you’re experiencing any of these issues, please know that you are not alone. All too often, people suffer in silence, believing that their problems are normal or that they just need to toughen up. The truth is that your mental health is important to us, and your concerns will be taken seriously.