Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Brett Buchert. We would like to thank her for her submission and credit her as the author of this blog post.
Staying healthy in college is a battle. Maintaining your mental health can be even harder. In fact, according to the 2013 National College Health Assessment, about half of college students have experienced such overwhelming anxiety in the past year that they found it difficult to succeed academically and one third have felt so depressed that they were unable to lead their normal lives.
So if you’re struggling with your mental health, you’re not alone. I was right there with you.
If you’re a young college woman, or assigned female at birth, your symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood swings, rage spells, insomnia, and even suicidal thoughts could go beyond the typical woes of college stress or even the typical diagnoses of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
It could be Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
PMDD is a little known and little understood condition related to the menstrual cycle that causes a variety of debilitating mood symptoms, as well as physical symptoms. Sadly, many doctors and mental health counselors haven’t even heard of PMDD, let alone acknowledge that it’s a real condition. However, thanks to the recent efforts of the Gia Allemand Foundation for PMDD, Vicious Cycle: Making PMDD Visible, and Me v PMDD Symptom Tracker app (my own venture), three groups advocating for the awareness and better treatment of PMDD, that is beginning to change.
1 in 20 college women may have PMDD, but some (many!) don’t even know it. In my experience, knowing was the first step to healing…
Could you be struggling with PMDD?
- Are you a woman or someone with a period?
- PMDD can affect anyone that menstruates, and there is support for all regardless of gender identity.
- Do you struggle with any of the following symptoms?
- Mood swings; sudden sadness or tearfulness; increased sensitivity to rejection
- Irritability; anger or rage; increased interpersonal conflicts
- Sadness or depression
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Self-deprecating thoughts
- Suicidal thoughts
- Decreased interest in usual activities (e.g., work, school, friends, or hobbies)
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Lethargy, extreme fatigue, or lack of energy
- Change in appetite; overeating; specific food cravings
- Hypersomnia (oversleeping) or insomnia (trouble sleeping or the inability to fall asleep)
- A sense of being overwhelmed or out of control
- Physical symptoms such as breast tenderness or swelling, joint or muscle pain, a sensation of bloating or weight gain, menstrual cramps, etc.
- Do these symptoms occur intermittently?
- For someone with PMDD, these symptoms usually start about one to two weeks before the start of their period each cycle (during the premenstrual, or luteal, phase) and subside within a few days of starting their period. This is the key to a PMDD diagnosis, as opposed to depression and anxiety which are pervasive throughout the cycle, and bipolar disorder which has cycling, but isn’t linked to the menstrual cycle, although PMDD can occur alongside these other disorders. PMDD is also much more severe than the common PMS.
- If you’re not sure if your symptoms are intermittent or occur in the premenstrual phase, tracking your symptoms is key! My own app, Me v PMDD, is now available for free on iOS and Android, and can help you track all PMDD symptoms. However, other period and mood tracker apps like Clue, Flo, Eve, and Daylio can be helpful for more generalized tracking.
- Note: I believe that every person with a period should track their cycles and symptoms, regardless of whether they have PMDD. You’d be surprised to see how much in your life is related to your menstrual cycle, including sexual desire, cravings, weight, sociability, sleep, and more!
If you answered YES to these three questions, or YES, YES, MAYBE, here’s what you can do:
- Track your symptoms! Use Me v PMDD or another app to keep it simple and discrete. Track symptoms every day for at least two cycles for a PMDD diagnosis. Your tracking may show that your symptoms aren’t really associated with the menstrual cycle, so it’s probably not PMDD, but that data is a snapshot of your experience and extremely valuable to finding the help and treatment you deserve to feel better!
- Share your tracking with your doctor. Not all doctors know about PMDD, but the Gia Allemand Foundation has a directory of peer-recommended providers that treat PMDD all over the world you may want to explore.
- Contact the Gia Allemand Foundation’s Peer Support. The foundation has trained peer supporters (who also have PMDD) online every day to share information, resources, and support to anyone with PMDD or exploring a possible diagnosis. They are here to help!
- Explore more of the Gia Allemand Foundation website. This organization is incredible!
- Search #PMDD, #PMDDpeeps, and #PMDDwarrior on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to connect with others who are fighting the PMDD battle.
In close, my simple advice to you as someone who’s fought a battle in her head for over a decade and now can finally call her enemy by its name: PMDD, if you are struggling with your mental health, do not resign, do not settle, do not blame yourself, but do fight this fight and know that you are strong.
If you’re interested in reading more, here are a few great blog posts to help you learn about what PMDD is really like:
- “What to Do When Your PMDD Won’t Let You Do Anything” by Bailey Anderson
- “PMS Sidenotes” by Chloe Maughan
- “PMDD: What the Right Diagnosis Did for Me” by Brett Buchert (myself)