Rachel Fieldhouse


EXCLUSIVE: Claudine Ryan talks hormones, PMS and the brain

EXCLUSIVE: Claudine Ryan talks hormones, PMS and the brain

If you have ever had your feelings of anger dismissed because you are dealing with fluctuations in hormones - whether that’s around your period, pregnancy-related or due to menopause - you’re not the only one.

While the vast majority of women experience these dips and peaks in hormones without many severe symptoms, the dismissal of symptoms as a side effect of hormones can have severe consequences.

Between 2009 and 2018, suicide was the third-highest cause of mortality among women who had recently given birth.

For women entering menopause, the incidence of depression doubles, and those who have experienced mental illness in the past may see their symptoms return.

Claudine Ryan is one half of the duo behind the popular podcast Ladies, We Need To Talk, alongside host and co-creator Yumi Stynes.

Claudine spoke to OverSixty about the pair’s latest book - named after their podcast - which tackles the thorniest of issues relating to women’s health, biology, and sex lives.

In particular, she shared her thoughts on the overlap between hormones, PMS. and mental health, as well as advice for those navigating these issues with friends and family.

O60: Throughout Ladies, We Need to Talk there’s a core message of opening up conversations on ‘taboo’ topics to improve awareness and help women feel less alone. Do you have particular hopes about how the awareness of and conversations around mental health and hormones will change?

When it comes to our hormones and mental health, every woman is different. For reasons that aren't totally understood, some of us can really feel the impact of changing levels of certain hormones at certain times during our cycles or at certain times in our lives. So some of us experience really severe hormonal symptoms (severe insomnia, trouble concentrating, depression and even suicidal thoughts), while others find their hormones have no noticeable impact on their mood. [My] version of PMS looks different to Yumi's. But when we share our stories with each other we can start to see that there is a range of different women's experiences and this can help us to place our own somewhere on this spectrum. One hope is that these conversations foster a rich and diverse community of people who understand each other so that fewer of us feel alone or isolated, and also so we have a better understanding of what this spectrum of normal is. 

Another hope is that these conversations give women courage to speak out and ask for help when something does seem right for them. We have heard so many stories of women's symptoms being dismissed, or them being what they are living with is in their head. Understanding how your experience fits in with others can help you to know that what is happening for you is real and that if someone isn't listening to you, then you need to find someone who will.  

O60: In chapter six you both talked about anger and how it surfaces around the same time as other PMS symptoms, how do you feel about the association between anger and other ‘uglier’ emotions with being hormonal?

It is very infuriating to have your feelings or frustrations dismissed as being purely hormonal. But it is also very helpful to understand that there might be certain times when your mood might be really low or you might be more inclined to feel frustrated by pee on the toilet seat or a sink full of dishes. For some women, just understanding how their hormones may affect their mood is all they need. But for others, knowing their hormones are making them miserable is the first step in figuring out what their options are to get some relief.

It's important to acknowledge, as is the case with many many women's health issues, there needs to be more research for us to better understand the relationship between our hormones and our moods.  

O60: Do you have any advice for other women struggling with family/friends/partners/colleagues/strangers commenting on their mental health and being hormonal or dealing with PMS?

You could swear at the person, and that is a legitimate response.

You could explain to them these conditions are recognised by leading women's health experts and that for those who experience symptoms on the more severe end there are treatment options available. 

You could take the approach of women's health psychologist Professor Jane Ussher, who's spent decades researching PMS. Over the years many women have told her that when they are on holidays or away from the usual stress and pressures of their lives that they are much less likely to have PMS. But when life is as normal, all the crap they normally put up with just becomes too much. Women tell her that it's their real feelings that are coming out when they get PMS. So for three weeks of a month they can play nice and bottle it all up, but then at that point in their cycle they don't have the energy to keep up this front. These women often then ask those around them to help out a bit more so they don't get so worn out and frustrated.

Ladies, We Need To Talk, published by Hardie Grant, is now available to purchase.

Image: Supplied

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