A new study has revealed that women with PCOS are at a higher risk for suicide. Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder related to women’s reproductive health, but its psychological implications are no less.
This study, undertaken by researchers in Taiwan and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that women who are afflicted by the syndrome are more vulnerable to suicide attempts, even after adjusting for factors such as psychiatric disorders, other health conditions, and demographics. The data for the study was obtained from nearly 9000 women and girls between the ages of 12 to 64, who had been diagnosed with PCOS between 1997 and 2012. None of the participants had any prior history of attempted suicides.
Read More: Suicide Awareness: Unveiling the Truth
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a common condition in which women’s ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens. Androgens are male sex hormones, which are otherwise present in women in small amounts. The name of the condition refers to the numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) that form on the ovaries of women suffering from PCOS. However, all women with PCOS don’t need to have ovarian cysts.
The bodies of women with PCOS do not produce adequate hormones required for ovulation. This can cause trouble with their menstrual cycles, causing them to have irregular periods miss them entirely, or have extremely light periods. It also causes many other secondary symptoms of PCOS, which symptoms include: hirsutism (excessive body hair on the face, the chest, and stomach), acne or oily skin, skin tags and dark patches on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and under the breasts, thinning of hair and hair fall, and weight gain. In extreme cases, it may even cause infertility. Women with PCOS are also more susceptible to serious conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, problems with the heart and blood vessels, and uterine cancer.
The exact causes of PCOS have not been determined. However, it is known to run in families, so if a woman’s mother or sister has PCOS, she is at higher risk for developing it. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, building up insulin levels in the body causes higher androgen levels. PCOS has also been termed as a lifestyle disorder, thus, obesity, lack of physical exertion, and the absence of a healthy diet can worsen the condition.
Read More: 8 Ways to Deal with Body Image Issues
PCOS Treatment and Mental Health Impact on Women
Treatment for PCOS depends on a woman’s age, how severe her symptoms are, and her overall health. Medication for PCOS usually includes birth control pills, which help to control menstrual cycles, lower androgen levels, and reduce acne. However, birth control pills can have certain side effects which are extremely detrimental to women’s mental health.
They include headaches and nausea, depression, and severe mood swings. The several risks of PCOS can also cause severe health anxiety in women. Many women also struggle with the more outward symptoms of PCOS such as acne, hirsutism, rapid weight gain, and dark skin patches. Although otherwise harmless, these conditions can lead women to develop deep-rooted body image issues and even dysphoria.
Doctors have reported that PCOS often takes a large toll on mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and increased stress levels. The hormonal imbalances caused by the condition further escalate these mental health concerns, which offers a possible explanation for the increased risk of suicides among women with PCOS. It also highlights the urgent need for both mental and physical health support for women.
Suggestions for Alleviating PCOS symptoms
For symptoms such as acne and hirsutism, cosmetic procedures such as electrolysis and laser hair removal can be employed to help women boost their self-esteem. Some lifestyle measures that can help alleviate PCOS’s negative impact on women’s physical and mental health are described below:
- Stress Management – Chronic stress can worsen the symptoms of PCOS. Reducing stress can regulate cortisol (stress hormone) in the body. Strategies such as yoga, meditation and journaling are recommended by doctors. Another important component is maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Sleep disturbances are more common in women with PCOS. Getting a full 7-8 hours of sleep each night and maintaining a routine can help manage stress.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce insulin resistance in your body and help with regulating your period. If you are overweight, the first line of treatment recommended by doctors is to lower your weight through a combination of a low-calorie diet and exercise. However, exercise must also be balanced. Too much exertion can counterproductively disrupt your hormones. Exercises such as Yoga or Pilates are often suggested for a PCOS weight loss journey. Other exercises you can partake in are swimming, aerobics, and long-distance running.
- Diet changes – Diet changes are the most important part of managing PCOS symptoms. A nourishing diet can regulate your hormones and menstrual cycle. Avoiding foods with artificial sugar and preservatives, and instead consuming whole foods such as unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and whole grains not only benefits your body but also boosts your mood significantly. Eating protein-rich foods stimulates your body to produce insulin. Cutting out caffeine consumption from your diet also directly impacts estrogen levels and hormone behaviour.
Lastly, you must remember to practise self-compassion. Treating yourself and your body with kindness is the key component in living with PCOS, especially during challenging times such as during weight gain. Doctors also recommend connecting with nature and engaging in activities such as painting, singing, crafts, and dancing which allow you to have a creative outlet. They can be crucial in dealing with the emotional aspects of PCOS. The journey of living with PCOS is full of struggle and challenges, however, cultivating gratitude, setting realistic goals for yourself, and celebrating small victories along the way can make it easier!
- https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos#:~:text=Polycystic%20ovary%20s yndrome%20(PCOS)%20is,that%20form%20in%20the%20ovaries.