Mental and emotional health is just as important as physical health. Depression and anxiety are common in women with PCOS, but are often overlooked and therefore left untreated. Approximately 34% of women with PCOS have depression compared to 7% of women in the general population and around 45% have anxiety, compared to only 18% of the general population. It has also been shown that the longer it takes to receive a diagnosis of PCOS, the more likely women are to be depressed or anxious.
Depression and anxiety can impact on your quality of life in several ways:
- Physically – by disrupting your eating and sleeping patterns
- Psychologically – by reducing your motivation and increasing feelings of worthlessness
- Socially – by affecting your relationships
Research shows experiencing the symptoms of PCOS, including excess hair growth, hair loss, acne, weight changes and fertility problems, can negatively affect mood, self–confidence and body image.
Reduced or poor mental and emotional health can make it difficult to look after yourself, follow a healthy lifestyle and make the best decisions about your health. Awareness of the effects of mood on managing lifestyle is the key to managing PCOS.
In the video below, Jean Hailes Psychologist Dr Mandy Deeks talks about the important topic of emotional health in PCOS, explaining why feelings of anxiety and depression occur more commonly in women with PCOS and what you can do about it.
What affects your emotional health?
There are many factors that influence emotional health, including:
- Having a chronic disease like PCOS, where there are physical and psychological changes
- Lifestyle and stress
- Genes, personality and thinking
- Self esteem
- Body image
- Relationships, family and friends
- Experiences, your sense of purpose and your coping styles
It is helpful to think about what influence each of these has on your mental and emotional health.
Reactions to diagnosis
Being diagnosed with a chronic disease like PCOS can generate a range of feelings and emotions, often these are similar to a grief reaction. Not everyone will experience these feelings and, in no particular order, the reactions can be:
What influences these feelings?
Sometimes the journey to a diagnosis of PCOS is a long and frustrating one. As it is a complex condition, diagnosis can be difficult. Many women with PCOS often report frustration over delays in diagnosis, made worse by lack of appropriate and helpful information,. Your reaction to a diagnosis will often depend on a number of things such as:
- How long it took to be diagnosed
- How the diagnosis was discussed with you
- The symptoms you've experienced including:
- The type of symptoms
- How intense your symptoms have been
- How many symptoms you've had
- How often you've had symptoms
- The impact of PCOS on your quality of life and lifestyle
- The treatment options and predicted health outcomes for you
- Your personality and your life situation
- Your social and cultural background
- The number of people who understand what you're going through
Having a diagnosis and living with a condition such as PCOS can cause stress.
Stress occurs when you feel threatened or feel you cannot cope with a situation. While a little stress can provide motivation to act, too much stress, particularly over a long period of time, can take its toll on your health and sense of wellbeing.
It's helpful to take time to work out what may cause you stress. On a day-to-day basis, what is stressful for one person is not necessarily stressful for another.
Body image & PCOS
The physical changes of PCOS can affect your body image. Therefore it is important to seek treatment for things like acne and excess hair growth if these are of concern to you and affect how you think about your body. If PCOS has made you feel self–conscious, reduced your self-esteem and confidence and/or affected your behaviour, such as restricted your eating, caused you to obsess over food or not spend time with your friends, talk to a health professional and/or a person you trust.
Seeking help & support
Depending on how long it has been since you were diagnosed with PCOS you are likely to require different information and will have differing emotional and physical needs as time progresses.
Some women will experience clinical depression and anxiety after they have been diagnosed with PCOS; others may emerge from the diagnosis with determination and a sense of empowerment and knowledge. For example some women diagnosed with PCOS will see it as the end of freedom and choice thinking perhaps they are controlled by a condition, while others will focus on knowledge gained, that they have an explanation for their symptoms.
To understand more about anxiety and depression please visit our anxiety and depression webpages. Many treatments are available for a range of emotional health problems. Some women may benefit from even a few sessions of counselling, while others may benefit from the ongoing support of counselling. There are Medicare rebates for seeing a psychologist for up to ten sessions per year. See your doctor for more information.
If you have anxiety, depression and/or the emotional effects of PCOS are troubling you, seek help from your doctor, psychologist, or accredited health professional. Quality of life can be improved by:
Deeks A, Gibson-Helm, Paul E, Teede H. (2011). Is having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) a predictor of poor psychological function including anxiety and depression? Human Reproduction June;26(6):1399-407
Kitzinger, C. and J. Willmott, 'The thief of womanhood': women's experience of polycystic ovarian syndrome. Soc Sci Med, 2002. 54(3): p. 349-61
Sills, E.S., et al., Diagnostic and treatment characteristics of polycystic ovary syndrome: descriptive measurements of patient perception and awareness from 657 confidential self-reports. BMC Womens Health, 2001. 1(1): p. 3
Last updated 24 July 2017 — Last reviewed 05 March 2014
** Currently under review **
This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at March 2014.