Every woman carries her unique set of challenges. But for those living with PCOS, life can feel taxing. When coupled with the burden of depression, this journey may sometimes seem impossible.
As cliche as it sounds, you are not alone. Studies have shown that women with PCOS are up to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than the general population. What’s more disheartening is their depressive symptoms tend to be more severe.
The reality is PCOS is more than just a diagnosis; it’s a journey that brings hormonal imbalances and physical symptoms that significantly shape your mental (and physical) health.
In this article, we explore the connection between PCOS and depression and provide a few helpful tips for managing your symptoms.
Why Does PCOS Make You More Susceptible to Depression?
Despite the clear correlation between PCOS and depression, the relationship between the two isn’t fully understood. However, there are a few theories.
1. Physical symptoms and self-esteem
One key characteristic of PCOS is an overproduction of androgens (male hormones), like testosterone.
Elevated androgen levels can contribute to physical symptoms like acne, weight gain, and hirsutism (excessive hair growth). These symptoms can negatively impact self-esteem and mood, thereby contributing to depression.
2. Hormonal imbalances and mood regulation
Women with PCOS often have an imbalance in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, with a relative excess of estrogen. Both of these hormones play crucial roles in mood regulation.
For instance, estrogen significantly impacts the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. When estrogen levels are high, serotonin production can be affected, potentially leading to mood swings and depression.
On the other hand, progesterone has a calming and mood-stabilizing effect. An imbalance in these hormones can disrupt this calming effect, contributing to mood instability.
PCOS can also be associated with elevated cortisol levels, the body’s primary stress hormone. Chronically high cortisol levels can lead to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
If you’re experiencing symptoms related to hormonal imbalance, check out the PCOS Screening. It measures eight biomarkers often associated with PCOS, giving you an overview of your hormonal balance.
3. Insulin resistance and inflammation
Women with PCOS often suffer from insulin resistance, meaning their bodies don’t use insulin efficiently. The result is high blood sugar levels.
Some research suggests that insulin resistance can impair physiological mechanisms associated with learning and reward. This issue can contribute to depressive symptoms.
Insulin resistance is also associated with increased inflammation, which has been linked to causing depression.
Infertility is a common concern for women with PCOS. It can significantly contribute to depression in a number of ways.
For one, the possibility of infertility or difficulties in conceiving can lead to significant emotional distress. The societal and personal expectations surrounding motherhood can make this a particularly sensitive subject, contributing to stress and sadness.
For many women, motherhood is an integral part of their identity and life plan. Struggles with fertility can lead to feelings of failure or inadequacy, which can take a toll on mental health and self-esteem.
The uncertainty associated with infertility, such as not knowing how long it will take to conceive or if it will be possible at all, can cause chronic stress and anxiety, both of which are risk factors for depression.
Infertility can put a strain on relationships, leading to emotional distress. It can cause feelings of isolation, as it may be difficult for others to understand the emotional impact of infertility.
Breaking the Cycle of PCOS and Depression
PCOS and depression often feed into each other, creating a challenging cycle to break.
Depression can worsen PCOS symptoms by leading to unhealthy habits like irregular sleep, poor diet, and lack of exercise.
Understanding this cycle and seeking timely help is critical.
Managing PCOS and Depression Together
Treating PCOS and depression requires a holistic approach, which may include the following:
Healthy lifestyle choices: Embracing a healthier lifestyle can make a world of difference. Regular physical activity, balanced meals, good sleep, and finding ways to manage stress can help manage PCOS symptoms and uplift your mood.
Therapy and support groups: Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help manage depression effectively. Additionally, joining a support group can provide emotional comfort and a sense of community, helping you navigate this journey with others who understand.
Medication when needed: Sometimes, medication is a necessary part of the treatment plan. Antidepressants can help manage depression, while hormone treatments can help regulate your PCOS symptoms.
It’s important to discuss your options with your health provider. Every woman has unique symptoms and challenges, so what works for one person might not necessarily work for you.
Overcoming Depression with PCOS
The connection between PCOS and depression is complex, but you’re not alone. Understanding this link and seeking help can lead to a more balanced life, both physically and mentally.
Remember, it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to prioritize your health, both physical and mental. You’re stronger than you think, and there’s a community ready to support you every step of the way.
If you’re dealing with PCOS symptoms and/or persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities you once loved, changes in your eating or sleeping habits, or feelings of guilt and worthlessness, it might be time to seek help. Below are a few helpful resources.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service. To reach the helpline, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
PCOS Challenge is the largest support organization for women with PCOS worldwide. For support and resources, visit pcoschallenge.org/pcos-support.
PCOS Awareness Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising the global understanding of PCOS. For support and resources, please visit pcosaa.org.