PMDD: Are you the 1 in 20?

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Most of us are aware of the hormonal effects of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), but PMDD still lurks dangerously in the shadows. It is almost totally unrecognised by GPs, resulting in 90% of women with the condition going undiagnosed. This statistic becomes even more worrying when we acknowledge that 1 in 20 women suffer from the disorder.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder – also known as severe PMS – is a hormonal condition that affects some women in the weeks between ovulation and their period. The symptoms include (but are not limited to) anxiety, depression, mood swings, tiredness, anger, tearfulness, lack of concentration and even, in extreme cases, suicidal feelings. The period between ovulation and menstruation is around two weeks. So these symptoms can persist for around two weeks of every month. View that on an annual scale and the potential severity of PMDD becomes all too apparent. 

I first heard about PMDD at the end of 2018 during a not-so-jolly Christmas of revision and essay writing. Worried about my mood swings and spontaneous bursts of tearfulness, my mum took to the Internet to see what might be the matter with me. On the back of a Google search she stumbled across a page on Mind’s website with information about a condition with symptoms that seemed to match mine. As she read the list to me I began to feel more grounded than I had felt in days. Mood swings, tiredness, anger. I wasn’t crazy. It was a kind of illness.

I had mistaken my hormones for genuine feelings. I had punished myself for behaviour that I was not totally responsible for. The lack of awareness surrounding PMDD meant I was completely unprepared when it hit during my first year of university.

Unfortunately the condition I had discovered was one that I had been suffering with on-and-off for almost four years. I had mistaken my hormones for genuine feelings. I had punished myself for behaviour that I was not totally responsible for. The lack of awareness surrounding PMDD meant I was completely unprepared when it hit during my first year of university. More disappointing than the lack of conversation was the response from doctors. Having followed online advice to keep a mood diary for two months, I visited a doctor at Leeds Student Medical practice who failed to even inquire about my symptoms. She offered two options: a contraceptive pill or antidepressants. I left the surgery with a bundle of printouts from which to conduct my own research. I could have got the same information online. 

My experience is by no means unique. If statistics are anywhere near accurate, well over a million women in the UK are dealing with this condition every month. They may be failing to recognise the symptoms of PMDD or, having joined the dots, be struggling to find the support they need. It will be affecting their personal and professional relationships and their performance in their work and studies. Worst of all, it will be affecting their opinion of themselves. Who are we if we behave in ways that we cannot explain by anything more than a hormone imbalance?

If you are, or think you may be, suffering from PMDD, you are one of many. The only way we can find support for those suffering with PMDD is by raising awareness of the condition. Until then, GP advice will be vague and unhelpful. Women will continue to reach out for help only to regret asking. This month is PMDD awareness month and a perfect chance to continue the conversation many women are already trying to start. 

For more information visit the Mind website: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/premenstrual-dysphoric-disorder-pmdd/#.XKoy7-tKjEY

If you have (or think you have) PMDD, there is a lot of useful online support.

Facebook: ‘UK PMDD Support,’ ‘Vicious Cycle: Making PMDD Visible’. 

Instagram: @moodygirlofficial @moodymonth 

Twitter: @IAPMD @viciouscyclepmd

Cover Image: PRJKT RUBY