A study by the Monash University Behavioural Science Laboratory has found that women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) have high levels of depression, moderate levels of anxiety and stress and self-reported wellbeing so low that it is poorer than levels found in patients with cancer and heart disease
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a common disorder that is estimated to effect 12-18% of women of reproductive age. It can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, fertility and aspects of her appearance. The three main features of the condition are cysts that develop in the ovaries, ovaries that do not regularly release eggs, and having high levels of androgens, the group of male hormones. PCOS can result in potentially distressing symptoms including weight gain, hair loss excess body hair, acne and menstrual irregularities.
How Does PCOS Affect Women’s Mental Health and Wellbeing?
A study of 1605 women with a diagnosis of PCOS conducted by the Monash University Behavioural Science Laboratory revealed that affected women had severe depression and moderate anxiety and stress. Affected women also had poor self-reported wellbeing, much worse than the general population average and other chronic conditions such as cancer and heart disease. Interestingly, the study found that women aged 25 and under had the poorest mental health and self-reported wellbeing.
“I get embarrassed. The symptoms are often visual and hard to ignore or hide”
Poor mental health and self-reported wellbeing appeared to be due in part to symptoms. Key predictors of poor mental health and self-reported wellbeing in women were:
- Excess body hair
- Scalp hair loss
- Acne on body
- Acne on face
- Sleep apnoea
- Weight gain
- Mood changes
- No periods
- Heavy periods
- Irregular periods
“I see myself as being disordered and broken. I see myself as inferior to others. I feel anxious and down about being imperfect”
What can be done?
Findings of this study evidence that PCOS can have an adverse impact on women’s mental health and wellbeing, highlighting the need for a multidisciplinary approach in treatment involving psychological support for women to reduce the negative impacts of PCOS and its symptoms.
Women with PCOS suggested the following services:
- Support services for women and their partners/ families
- Education for healthcare providers and women (e.g. information sessions)
- Access to medical services post diagnosis (e.g. dietitians and dermatologists)
77% of women believed that counselling would be useful after a diagnosis and 69% said they need more social and psychological support
Biography: Georgia Rush is a final year PhD candidate at Monash University in Melbourne. Her research focuses on the psychosocial effects of Endometriosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Georgia will be attending the 2019 International Mental Health Conference from 31 July – 2 August – register now to meet and network!