Women’s Mental Health

by Neseret on November 9, 2011

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Creative Commons License photo credit: bterrycompton

Many women fear that they have some sort of character flaw because of their flactuating moods. It is often very easy to become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, shame and worthlessness on top of acute suffering and misery. This is a topic many women are afraid talk about because of fear of being judged or labled.

To this day I have times when I feel like my hormones are playing tricks on me. My sudden mood changes often feel like as if a light switch has been turned on or off. One moment I am at peace, happy and the next I’m in the depth of dispair. In the beginning it use to really scare me.

I felt like I was going “crazy”!

I know many women can relate to a lot of what I’m talking about here. As many as 80% of women experience symptoms of PMS and 3-5 % of women suffer from a debilitating condition known as PMDD. “Women’s brain chemistry is exquisitively sensitive to the ebb and flow of our reproductive hormones. The impact of both estrogen and progesterone creates changes in the brain that can lead to disturbed mood.” ~ Colette Dowling, LCSW

There are many factors that affect a women’s mental health. Some women are more volnerable and at risk for mental illness than others. The factors that create volnerability are a combination of genetic and environmental. For example ” The rate of sexual and physical abuse is much higher than previously suspected and is a major factor in women’s depression. Depressive symptoms may be long-standing effects of post-traumatic stress disorder for many women (McGrath et al., 1990).

“Women are approximately two times more likely than men to suffer from major depression and dysthymia.

(Research Agenda for Psychosocial and Behavioral Factors in Women’s Health, 1996). Depression has been called the most significant mental health risk for women, especially younger women of childbearing and childrearing age (Glied & Kofman, 1995).”

Major reason why women are at risk particularly for depression is liked to our reproductive hormones – mainly estrogen and progestrone. Very few women may make the connection between depression and reproductive hormones. Women often notice mood swings around the time of menstruation, or post partum or during a transition period to menopause.

“Many episodes of depression in women seem to pivot around these key moments of hormonal change, when fluctuating estrogen levels leave women more susceptible to depression. These fluctuations have a psychologically destabilizing action that renders the female brain more vulnerable to developing sadness, loss of pleasure, and reductions in the quality of their appetite and sleep. In a sense, the depression that many women experience may be an unnatural response to a natural hormonal change at key reproductive stages.”

The Connection Between Estrogen and Serotonin

Serotonin is a neurotransimtter that is found in the central nervous system. It is biochemically derived from tryptophan (one of the standard/essential amino acids). Serotonin is well-known for contributoring to feelings of health and well-being. It is the “feel good” chemical that contributes to happiness.

Reserach shows that estrogen appears to have a significant effect on serotonin levels in our brain. “In the brains of those who are depressed, there is a lack of serotonin, which can occur due to reduced serotonin production and release, over-activity of receptors that remove serotonin, and/or over-activity of the chemicals that break serotonin down.

Estrogen naturally affects each of these levels of serotonin functioning, which is why estrogen may serve as a natural anti-depressant.

The following is a short list of the ways estrogen influences serotonin:

Serotonin Creation: Estrogen displaces tryptophan, one of the building blocks of serotonin, from its binding sites, which increases its availability for creating more serotonin

Serotonin Breakdown: To prevent too much breakdown of serotonin, estrogen interferes with enzymes that deconstruct serotonin.

Serotonin Uptake: Estrogen increases the retrieval of serotonin by increasing the density of binding sites and receptors that are friendly to serotonin, particularly in areas that control mood.”

Basically this means estrogen assists in the making of the raw elements needed for creating serotonin, removes from the body materials that interefere with serotonin production, and provides more containers for the gathering of serotonin.  Therefore, the rise and fall of estrogen alters the neurotransmitter landscape in a way that directly influences a woman’s vulnerability to depression.

Typically when a woman’s estrogen levels fall as is typical during various points in the menstrual cycle or during changes such as menopause women may experience anxiety, depression, and mood swings. So if you are experiencing these symptoms know that you’re not “crazy” just a normal woman dealing with hormonal and chemical changes.

Please leave me your questions and comments below. Also if you found this article helpful share it on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you.

Peace, Love & Gratitude,

Neseret

 Sources

Research agenda for psychosocial and behavioral factors in women’s health. (1996, February). Washington, DC: Women’s Programs Office, American Psychological Association.

Glied, S., & Kofman, S. (1995, March). Women and mentalhealth: Issues for health reform background paper]. New York: The Commonwealth Fund, Commission on Women’s Health.

McGrath, E., Keita, G. P., Stickland, B. R., & Russo, N. F. (1990). Women and depression: Risk factors and treatment issues. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

An interview with Karen J. Miller and Steven A. Rogers, the authors of The Estrogen-Depression Connection New Harbinger Publications: What is the effect of estrogen on a woman’s mood? Is this effect seen in all women?

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