PCOS and Depression: Understanding the Connection and Finding Relief

Prioritising your mental health is not only important to your PCOs journey but also your overall well-being.

Posted on June 12, 2022 ·

BY Team Veera

Medically Reviewed

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When you are diagnosed with PCOS, it can feel overwhelming and fear can take over your senses. Many women with PCOS feel frustrated and anxious about delays in their periods or weight gain. Their mood swings are often disregarded as just being hormonal whereas this can affect your overall well-being. To take care of your physical health, a balance in your mental health is also necessary.

Studies say that women with PCOS are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than in women without PCOS. While most researchers have not been able to find a link as to why depression occurs if you have PCOS, there can be several reasons for it. It is first and foremost crucial to understand what affects your emotional health. PCOS can affect your lifestyle immensely and make you feel apprehensive about your body image and thinking in general.

PCOS and Depression

Depression has become a common illness that affects the way you think, feel or act and impairs your judgement negatively. Most people with depression often describe it as a feeling of persistent “sad” thoughts. Being human, it is normal to feel sad from time-to-time but it is important to note that when such feelings change the way you perform or pursue your daily activities, it needs to be highlighted and treated. Depression can affect your life in more ways than one, and so, talking to a therapist is the first step to take when facing any symptoms that correlate to depression.

What causes depression in PCOS?

There are several reasons why women with PCOS may feel depressed, and most of them stem from the fact that the symptoms of PCOS can be difficult to deal with.

1. Insulin resistance

Most women with PCOS become resistant to insulin, leading to an elevation in their sugar levels. Although insulin resistance is associated with depression, the reason behind it is not very clear. Studies say that resistance to insulin can cause several hormones to function abnormally and hence contribute indirectly to the cause of depression in women with PCOS.

2. Stress

After receiving the diagnosis of PCOS from your healthcare provider, accepting it and living with it can be stressful. The symptoms of PCOS are varied and affect the entire body in different ways- so it can feel as if you have less control over how your body behaves. Mood swings and constant anxiety about a multitude of physical and psychosocial reasons can cause a woman with PCOS to feel depressed. This is because you feel stress when you are threatened by a situation and do not see a way out of it. Feeling a little stressed about the whole scenario can act as a motivation to take care of your body, but an excess of stress might debilitate the way you function on a daily basis and depress you.

3. Body Image

PCOS can cause physical changes in your body, and that can change the way you look and think about yourself. Your body image is a perspective about how you feel about yourself and is directly related to your self-confidence. PCOS can make you feel self-conscious because of the weight gain or excessive hair and acne, and change the way you think altogether. Some women completely restrict what they eat, get on fad diets that are nutritionally shallow and obsess about weight management. Such extreme steps are not the solution towards treating PCOS and do not work in most instances. This can lower the self-esteem of women significantly and they may slip into depression. It is pivotal to understand that treating the symptoms of PCOS is the only way to take care of yourself through the PCOS journey.

It is wrong to classify depression as only feeling sad or moody. People affected by depression often describe it like a pit that you are struggling to get out of, but you fail to. The desperation and frustration clearly indicate the seriousness of the issue and the need for help. Women with PCOS often feel different forms of depression and that can be because of how their PCOS symptoms affect them.

The symptoms of depression in women with PCOS include:

  •   Fatigue, headaches and difficulty in concentrating at work/study
  •   Feelings of sadness, loneliness and lack of motivation to do day- to-day tasks
  •   Loss of interest in intimacy, activities or hobbies.
  •   Digestive problems
  •   Weight management is disturbed, feelings of guilt, changes in appetite.
  •   Mood swings which may cause you to cry uncontrollably.

Women with PCOS experience a lot of hormonal imbalances and each woman might have depression that looks different from the other. The three main forms of depression are:

  1. Bipolar Depression: PCOS women are more likely to suffer from bipolar depression. Manic depression, also known as bipolar I disorder, can be identified when a woman has a few symptoms like increased activity and speech. These symptoms can be observed by people by understanding if the person has an abnormally irritated or elevated mood.
  1. Seasonal Affective Disorder: Women with PCOS often feel the symptoms of depression during a particular season, mostly in winters. This is because the days are gloomier and the nights are longer and darker. Most common symptoms are fatigue and mood swings, and these symptoms get better when the season changes over the next few months.
  1. Major Depressive Disorder: It is common for most women with PCOS to feel frustrated while dealing with the symptoms of PCOS. But Major Depressive Disorder is a lot more than that. This is diagnosed when symptoms of depressive episodes are noticed, and people may also experience a lot of changes in their lifestyle or the way they function daily. The motivation to wake up, function normally and motivation for day-to-day activities is affected a lot. It is important to note such symptoms and try and seek help for it.

Here are a few tips to cope with PCOS and depression:

  1.     Learn more, Learn right.

It is always good to know more about PCOS so that you can understand what it exactly entails and how it affects you. This can help you manage your overall well-being and reassures yourself that there is a silver lining to chase and get better. However, there should be a sound balance between the information you read up and maintaining your anxiety about the whole situation. The knowledge you get through this journey should empower you and help you boost your confidence.

  1.     The mind-body connection.

Daily physical activity and a nutritionally-rich diet is the ideal combo to combat your PCOS. With PCOS, it is important to keep your sugar levels in check and maintain a particular range of weight, and this can be done by consuming healthy and wholesome foods. Physical activity can help you by releasing feel-good hormones in your brain, and distract you from anxiety or depression caused due to PCOS.

  1.     Talk it out.

Even if you face the symptoms of depression while dealing with your PCOS, it is good to talk about it to a supportive loved one. This can make you feel more reassured and less isolated. Support groups of women with PCOS can be a safe space to confide and talk about all the things that bother you about PCOS. If a group setting seems daunting to you, you can also seek help by talking to a therapist who can help you cope with the symptoms differently.

Disclaimer: Content on Veera is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, or as a substitute for medical advice given by a physician

Verified by Dr. Iris Lee

Fellow in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Lee is a fellow in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed medical school and residency training at the University of Pennsylvania as well. Her work focuses primarily on PCOS, particularly the metabolic and mental health implications. Outside of work, she enjoys baking, reading, and spending time with her husband and two puppies.

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