If you have periods or are close to anybody that does, chances are you are aware of just how trivialised our periods are.
From jokes about being ‘on the rag’ to us just not being taken seriously when people know that we’re on our periods, it’s a nightmare.
While there’s been a lot of progress in tackling stigmas surrounding periods and the conditions related to them such as Endometriosis and PCOS, we’re still leaving plenty of people behind who are in desperate need of support and empathy.
In fact, new research from the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has revealed that stereotypes around women meant that those in a mental health crisis would often hold back from asking for help for a multitude of reasons including fears that they’ll be seen as dramatic or attention seeking.
Even with those who have reached out, 20% were told their experiences with mental health could be down to hormones and 23% were asked if they were on their periods, as if either of these things take away from the severity of poor mental health.
The severe form of PMS that’s not being spoken about enough
When we reduce periods to jokes about acting ‘crazy’ or ‘emotional’, we not only minimise the impact that periods can have, further stigmatise mental health conditions and push those who have periods further into seclusion when it comes to opening up, we also are ignoring a real condition that does drastically affect people’s mental health right before their periods: PMDD.
According to the mental health charity Mind, “premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a very severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It causes a range of emotional and physical symptoms every month during the week or two before your period. It is sometimes referred to as ‘severe PMS’.”
Rather than just being a bit emotional or erratic as those experiencing periods are often accused of, PMDD can lead to very serious mental health episodes that cause suicidal feelings, outbursts of anger and the sensation of feeling overwhelmed or out of control. For some people, this can last up to two weeks.
HuffPost UK spoke to Josie, 28, who said that having PMDD makes her feel like her personality ‘has been swapped for an entirely different, crueller, person every single month’ and because she suffers from multiple disabilities, her doctors don’t seem to be in a hurry to treat her for it because it’s ‘not a priority’ in comparison to the other conditions she’s experiencing.
However, PMDD is a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and it should be treated as such by doctors and employers and it’s a disability that 5-8% or 800,000 of those that menstruate experience the debilitating symptoms of, every single month.
Joan, 36, told us that when she tried to speak to her doctor about PMDD and what could be done to help her manage her symptoms, the doctor simply said ‘hormones or antidepressants, your choice’. For Joan, she felt immediately shut down. She’d been on antidepressants before and they didn’t help with symptoms and added that ‘if anything, hormones exacerbated them’.
For those that don’t experience PMDD, it can be hard to imagine the severity of these symptoms, especially if they’re ‘only’ once a month but according to those with the condition, the symptoms are really quite debilitating and a huge cause for concern.
We also spoke to Maria who told us that she didn’t actually experience PMDD until she was perimenopausal. Once it kicked in, though, she experienced suicidal thoughts, hearing voices telling her to end her life, bouts of quickly onset rage and deep neurosis and paranoia.
She added that these symptoms affected her home life with arguments breaking out between her and her partner and their children.
How is PMDD diagnosed and treated?
We spoke to Dr Unnati Desai, the Medical Director at Skinfluencer London about the treatments available to those who have PMDD and how diagnosis takes place.
Dr Desai told us that to get diagnosed, patients are asked to keep a daily diary for at least ‘two consecutive cycles which rates various symptoms’.
A doctor then assesses if the symptoms are severe enough for a clear diagnosis of PMDD.
She added, “Generally, for a PMDD diagnosis, the symptoms must be so severe that they negatively impact all aspects of a woman’s life―including work, school, social activities, and relationships with other people.”
As for PMDD treatment, Dr Desai assures that there are a range of options available including CBT, vitamin B6, the combined contraceptive pill to ‘shut the ovaries down’ but only if the person isn’t looking to conceive and in severe cases, hormones or SSRIs may be prescribed.
However she added that “If these treatment options do not alleviate the symptoms, then the patient should be referred to a gynaecologist who can offer treatments to shut ovaries down.
In the most severe cases, and for women who have completed their family, a gynaecologist may recommend a hysterectomy in combination with prescription HRT and testosterone to protect their future health.”