PMS, you know the thing boys used to tease girls about at school? Or the thing that stops women from running for president? Yeah it’s actually really serious. And it sucks.
I have decided to write this article to clarify somethings about PMS, the main point being that it is not a joke.
For those who do not know: people born with uteruses and vaginas tend to menstruate once a month which occurs because of changes in hormones in their body. The week before the womb lining is shed (the period) some people may experience emotional and physical unease/distress/pain. Many people pass through this week and do not even notice- they may feel slightly more emotional but that tends to be it. However, PMS is very, very, very different.
The symptoms vary in person-to-person and in degree and type. Some of the emotional symptoms include anxiety, depression, low mood, sleeping problems, mood swings, fatigue, lethargy, aggression, the list goes on but you get the picture. It’s not great. And then there are also physical symptoms, often linked to the emotional ones, such as headaches, clumsiness, struggles seeing, weight gain (often water bloatage), muscle ache and breast tenderness. When these combine PMS can be truly awful and greatly affect people’s lives. It’s hard to attend seminars when you’re so fatigued you can’t read, your head is pounding and your mind feels completely numb. Or in other words, it is a serious condition.
However, there is an even more severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). It is basically PMS on steroids. For those that have the condition they may suffer extreme depression and low mood that could lead to self-harm, suicidal thoughts or even suicide. The physical symptoms are also more severe.
The National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome estimates that as many as 30% of women experience mild to severe PMS with 5-8% experiencing severe PMS/PMDD. Annoyingly, they do not define ‘woman’ on their website so it is unknown if they include non-binary and trans-folk in these statistics, many of whom will also experience the condition.
There is no known direct cause of PMS yet, however, it is believed that hormonal changes are the main cause but the symptoms are worsened by factors in a person’s lifestyle. For example excessive caffeine intake, alcohol consumption, stress etc.- all the usual suspects. These hormonal changes can also exacerbate existing underlying conditions, such as depression, that may not be as noticeable or disabling at other times. Recent studies have shown that PMDD is caused by cells not being able to process sex hormones properly.
However, research into causes and cures of PMS and PMDD have been limited. There are many reasons for this perhaps the most obvious one being the aspect of gender. PMS is inherently gendered because it is associated with cis-women. As a result the symptoms of it are often regarded as simply part of a woman’s mentality. This is part of the wider feminisation of depression whereby it is often not taken seriously, or men do not feel they can discuss it, because it is regarded as a feminine trait. Depression not being taken seriously especially applies to younger women and teenagers. Many teenage girls suffer with issues such as depression, eating disorders and PMS but they are swept away under the stereotype of ‘the hormonal, emotional teenage girl’. Women of colour are often underdiagnosed with mental health issues as they do not fit the medical stereotype of a woman with mental health issues. This can be extremely dangerous. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate but people do.
There is no know direct cure yet for PMS but there are several available. People may be prescribed hormonal treatment such as the Pill to adjust their hormone balance. Anti-depressants, anxiety medicine and therapy can also be prescribed. For some people their PMS is so severe they have to undergo a hysterectomy, however, this is incredibly rare now. The most common method of management is life style changes including tracking your PMS weeks and making sure you eat well, sleep enough, exercise etc. during that week. Though this sounds tedious and patronising it does often help to minimise symptoms (I promise!).
If you feel that you may be affected by PMS Warwick University Mental Health and Well Being run regular Well-Being drop in sessions where you can go by and talk to an expert in private. You can also book appointments. Talking to your GP may is also an option depending on the severity of the condition. If you feel you are having a mental health crisis there are many telephone support services available through this link as well as how to access services if you are hard of hearing or unable to talk: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/telephone-support/#.WNuVOfkrLIU
If it is an emergency go to A&E or call 999.
Hopefully this article has cleared up a few misconceptions about PMS and helped anyone who may feel that they may have the condition.
Words by Molly Wilson-Smith. Illustrations by Emily-Rose Grieve.