Women’s Hormones and Mental Health

I often talk to women about hormonal issues.  Most of the time it conversations start with, “I don’t know if I’m crazy, but”, followed by a list of symptoms that sound like mental illness.  By the end of the conversation, it can be difficult to determine which is the issue.

There are various causes of mental health issues. These can include genetic and/or environmental factors. Mental illness can also be caused or exacerbated by hormonal changes.

According to WebMD.com, the effects of estrogen include: increasing serotonin and the number of serotonin receptors in the brain, and modifying the production and effects of endorphins.

For women who may be sensitive to hormonal changes, the shift that occurs during various stages of the menstrual cycle, perimenopause, or menopause can leave women with symptoms that mimic mental illness.

If you are experiencing symptoms that could easily be confused with mental illness and are wondering if they may be related to hormonal changes there are steps you can take.

1) Keep a calendar of symptoms to track your moods and/or significant mental or emotional symptoms.

I suggest doing this for a few months at minimum.  In addition to tracking symptoms, also note times of hormonal changes.  For example, be sure to note when you are ovulating and the week before your cycle starts.  If you notice a significant change in symptoms around these times, your symptoms may be based on hormonal changes.

If you are on hormone-based contraceptives, you may also want to take note of how these are affecting your mood as well.  I have been on several birth control pills.  As a matter of fact, I can only think of a few that I have not tried.  I have learned through trial and error that I am more sensitive to certain synthetic hormones than others.  Some birth control pills increase my anxiety, while others can make me feel depressed.

If you notice that your symptoms seem to have no specific pattern, or that they are very sporadic in nature, your symptoms may not be related to your hormones.

2) Talk with your doctor.

Even if you think you have it all figured out, it never hurts to follow up with a physician.  I feel that the most important part of finding a physician is finding one that is willing to listen, and has knowledge of women’s mental health and hormonal issues.

Whether issues are caused by mental illness, hormones, or if it is a mental illness exacerbated by hormonal issues; there are treatment options available.  Be your own advocate and seek the best care on your path to wellness.