Hormones and mental health have proven link

Both PMT and perimenopausal depression have hormonal triggers.
Both PMT and perimenopausal depression have hormonal triggers. George Doyle - Getty images

WOMEN'S hormones and incidents of depression can go together, says a leading professor.

And women who claim that they have premenstrual tension, or who are depressed during perimenopause are not making it up, she emphasises.

The comments by Jayashri Kulkarni, Professor of Psychiatry at Monash University, follow an opinion piece in a newspaper that discussed the theory that PMS is all in women's minds as opposed to their endocrinology.

Prof Kulkarni told Wellbeing that both PMT and perimenopausal depression have hormonal triggers and that "a select number of women are sensitive to hormonal shifts".

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"These sensitivities can have a genetic factor - they run in families," she said.

"In the future we hope to have a test for a genetic oestrogen receptor marker that will help us identify those women who may fall into this category.

"But, at the moment all we can measure is the hormone that is circulating in the body, not the brain."

That said, "it is really important to listen to women," said Prof Kulkarni.

She said women had tended to be "put down" for implying they suffered the blues because of their hormones.

"The incident of premenstrual depression is about 25 per cent but I think that's an underestimate," said Prof Kulkarni.

"The rates of perimenopausal depression are 16 times that."

Writing in The Conversation, an independent source of news from the academic and research community, Prof Kulkarni said opinions about the existence of PMS were often fuelled by personal philosophy and politics, rather than by reason and good research.

Over the centuries, women have had to cope with dismissive views about their anger, depression or capabilities, and being labelled as "irrational" during "that time of the month", she said.

"In the 1970s feminists fought hard against the concept of hormone influences on women's behaviour in their struggle to achieve equality for women. It was important back then to dismiss women's biology as the only determining factor of her life.

"Today, we don't have to take the view that women's biology, including their hormone profiles, are unimportant.

"We can reclaim biology and integrate it with the psychological plus social contexts to see that PMS does exist and does cause real suffering for many women."

Prof Kulkarni said the evidence from many studies about integration of hormones with mental processes is now well established.

"Happily, we are approaching an era of individualised medicine, where each person's biological, psychological and social context can be taken into consideration.

"With rapidly accumulating scientific knowledge about the role of hormones in the brain and on behaviour, we are in a better place to listen to and discuss their concerns and issues with women, while taking the role of cyclical hormone changes into account."

Topics:  depression mental health women's health

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