Depression and anxiety are common in women with PCOS. Learn how PCOS might affect your mental and emotional health, including mood, stress and body image. There is also information on what you can do if you find your mental and emotional health is affected by PCOS.
Mental & emotional health
What affects your emotional health?
Reactions to diagnosis
Seeking help & support
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.
Depression is a serious and common illness that negatively affects the way you think, how you feel and how you act. People with depression have persistent and extreme negative feelings and thoughts. Depression can stop you from doing everyday activities such as sleeping and eating, and it can make it difficult for you to function each day, both physically and emotionally.
Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling of nervousness, fear or worry that something bad is happening or is about to happen. For some people, these feelings can become persistent and extreme. Ongoing feelings of anxiety can be distressing and can interfere with daily life, have physical effects, and can require treatment.
Depression and anxiety can affect your quality of life in several ways:
Research shows that 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.
It has also been shown that the longer it takes for a woman to receive a diagnosis of PCOS, the more likely she is to be depressed or anxious. It can be difficult to cope with the symptoms of PCOS especially if you don’t’ know the cause.
One of the most effective approaches for treating symptoms of PCOS has been shown to be a healthy lifestyle – eating a nutritious diet, being as active as possible and maintaining a healthy weight. However, 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.
One of the keys to managing PCOS successfully is, therefore, being aware of the effect your mood can have on managing your lifestyle. It is important to seek help with this if you feel you need it.
With the right support, education about PCOS and appropriate treatment, your emotional health can be improved.
Exercise can be an effective supplement to treatment in mild and moderate depression and help to reduce anxiety, and may help prevent relapse of depression. Physical activity should not replace standard treatment, particularly for those with severe depression, however, different types of physical activity appear to be equally effective in managing depression.
Find more information of light, moderate and vigorous levels of activities with examples of different types of activities here.
Greater support needed for women with PCOS at risk for eating disorders, low self-esteem and psychological distress.
There are many factors that influence emotional health, including:
It is helpful to think about what influence each of these has on your mental and emotional health.
Being diagnosed with a chronic disease such as PCOS can generate a range of feelings and emotions. Often, these are similar to a grief reaction. Not everyone will experience these feelings. In no particular order, the reactions can be:
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.[2, 3]
Your reaction to a diagnosis often will depend on many things, such as how the diagnosis and condition was discussed with you; your symptoms, your personality and support network.
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. A little stress can provide motivation to act, but 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 can cause you stress. On a day-to-day basis, what is stressful for one person is not necessarily stressful for another.
Body image is the way a person thinks or feels about their body. It can be influenced by many factors, including a person’s understanding of their health, their attitudes towards physical appearance, their physical fitness, body size and their personal or cultural values.
The physical changes of PCOS can affect your body image. Many of the symptoms of PCOS challenge our ideas about femininity and how women are ‘supposed’ to look. Many women with PCOS feel less physically attractive, physically fit and healthy. This can be very difficult to cope with emotionally.
PCOS can make some women feel self-conscious, reduce their self-esteem and confidence and/or affect their behaviour. For example, some women might find they restrict their eating, start to obsess over food or stop spending time with their friends. If PCOS is affecting the way you feel about your body, or your behaviour, talk to a health professional and/or a person you trust.
At different times of your life, different symptoms of PCOS can concern you more. If symptoms such as acne and excess hair growth are of concern to you and affect how you think about your body, it is important to seek treatment for these symptoms.
In the video below, 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.
Some women will experience depression and anxiety after they have been diagnosed with PCOS; others might accept the condition and cope well by learning about it.
There is help available to improve your emotional health, and your overall wellbeing. Women with PCOS are strongly encouraged to monitor their own emotional health by asking themselves questions such as:
If you answer yes to any of these questions, it is important to seek help from a health professional.
Each woman’s experience of PCOS is individual and will change across the course of her life. It is important that your treatment be worked out to meet your specific needs at any particular time. Many treatments are available for a range of emotional health problems. Some women can benefit from just a few sessions of counselling, whereas others might benefit from the support of ongoing counselling.
Your doctor can provide you with support and, if required, refer you to a counsellor or psychologist for specialised psychological support. There are Medicare rebates for seeing a psychologist for up to 10 sessions per year. Your doctor can provide you with more information.
To understand more about anxiety and depression please visit our Mental & emotional wellbeing webpages.
Read more on PCOS in our booklet 'Understanding polycystic ovary syndrome: All you need to know'
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 September 2019.