With Mental Health Awareness Week shining a spotlight on mental wellbeing, let's turn our attention to a crucial aspect of women's health that often gets overlooked – The powerful connection between women's physical and mental health.

While these are labelled separately, it's better to look at them as two sides of the same coin, especially when it comes to gynaecological health. A healthy body and a healthy mind go hand-in-hand, so understanding the delicate dance between the two is essential.

Let's delve deeper into this intricate link, and explore the direct and indirect links between your gynaecological health and mental health.


Direct Links - Hormones and Mental Health

A woman's life is a unique hormonal journey. From the monthly rhythm of menstruation and ovulation to the hormonal shifts that accompany pregnancy, the perimenopause and the menopause, these fluctuations can have a big impact on how we feel.

Oestrogen and Progesterone in the Monthly Cycle: These hormones fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, impacting mood and emotional regulation.

  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): The drop in progesterone and rise in oestrogen just before menstruation can trigger mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and even fatigue.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD): A more severe form of PMS, PMDD can cause significant emotional distress, including depression, anger outbursts, and difficulty concentrating.

Oestrogen, Progesterone and Oxytocin in Pregnancy and Postpartum: A significant decline in these hormones during menopause can lead to various mental health symptoms.

  • Mood Swings: Rapid hormonal fluctuations can lead to mood swings, tearfulness, and even temporary anxiety.
  • Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Depression and anxiety are more common during pregnancy and postpartum. Hormonal changes, coupled with physical and emotional demands, can contribute to these challenges.

Hormonal Shifts in the Menopause: A significant decline in these hormones during menopause can lead to various mental health symptoms.

  • Depression and Anxiety: The drop in oestrogen can contribute to feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, and difficulty concentrating. Additionally, anxiety can manifest as feelings of worry, irritability, or difficulty sleeping.
  • Brain Fog: Oestrogen plays a role in cognitive function. Some women may experience difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, or "brain fog" during menopause


Indirect Links – The Ripple Effect

The link between mental health and women's health goes deeper. Gynaecological health has a broader impact on mental wellbeing through several indirect channels.

One major culprit is chronic pain from gynaecological conditions like endometriosis or uterine fibroids. This constant physical discomfort can have a significant ripple effect on mental health:

  • Depression: Living with chronic pain can be exhausting, leading to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and potentially triggering depression.
  • Anxiety: The constant fear of pain flare-ups or the unpredictability of symptoms can fuel anxiety, leading to a cycle of worry and tension.
  • Sleep Disruption: Difficulty sleeping due to pain can further disrupt emotional and mental well-being. Broken sleep throws off our natural rhythms and can worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Interestingly, this relationship is a two-way street - Chronic stress and anxiety rising from gynaecological issues can make those issues worse!

The body's immediate response to stress is to release cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone. While helpful in short bursts, prolonged stress keeps cortisol levels elevated and can have a knock-on effect on your hormonal balance, leading to irregular periods or even missed periods.

Stress can also worsen pain perception, especially for conditions like PMS or endometriosis, making existing symptoms feel more intense. This creates a frustrating cycle where pain fuels anxiety, and anxiety amplifies the experience of pain.


The Importance of Destigmatising

With all this in mind, consider the statistic that one in five women experience a common mental health disorder.

There's no stigma attached with going to the GP for a pain in your shoulder or an inflamed eye – So why should there be a stigma attached to seeking help for your mental health? Many women hesitate to seek help due to fear or shame for both their mental health or women's health needs, yet as we've seen these two are closely linked and neglecting one will have an effect on the other.

Remember, you are not alone. If you're struggling with your mental or gynaecological health, reach out for help. Taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, isn't being ‘selfish' or ‘self-centred' – It's an act of strength and self-compassion.

To get involved with spreading awareness or access more resources, take a look at the Mental Health Foundation's page for Mental Health Awareness Week.