Life is stressful, and PMS and PMDD make life more stressful. And as I wrote in my first blog post here, life stresses cause PMS. Well, PMDD, or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder—the most severe form of PMS—is just as tied into stress, and researchers have proven it. Increase your stress, and you increase your chances of having PMDD, which is a lot like having PMS depression: you sleep too much or too little, you’re tense and on edge, you feel sad and lose interest in things you usually like, plus women with PMDD can get all the same symptoms like bloating and cramps that are usually associated with PMS.
Not everyone is equally likely to develop PMS, though, and there are many factors that determine who will get it. We know there’s an inherited genetic tendency to PMDD, plus there’s also the stress component, and there’s definitely a hormonal and a brain chemistry aspect (we know this because PMDD has been treated with birth control hormones and antidepressants.) To that list, we can now officially add another likely culprit: discrimination.
That’s right—when minority women feel discrimination on the basis of gender, race, weight, or other factors, they’re more likely to have PMDD. Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean that these women felt discriminated against and then went home and felt bad about it. It means that when they felt this kind of prejudice directed towards them, weeks later it threw off their hormones, their brain chemistry, and their whole lives!
These findings were published in a paper in the Journal of Women’s Health from June of this year. Over 2700 Latina, Black, and Asian women reported their experiences and 83% reported experiencing discrimination during their lifetime. Interestingly, PMDD was connected more to subtle prejudice than to overt bias, which makes some sense: overt discrimination is mostly frowned upon in the culture, plus you know when it’s there. It’s the sneaky underhanded stuff that creates more stress. It's akin to the difference between an out-and-out argument with a friend that blows over rapidly like a violent thunderstorm, versus a simmering feud that boils below the surface and goes on and on.
Corey J. Pilver, the lead author on this scientific paper, is a researcher with the Connecticut Veteran’s Administration, and wrote the paper as part of her doctoral dissertation at Yale University.
One final note: minority women aren’t the only ones subject to gender discrimination: all women experience it. We’d love to see a study that looks at women of all ethnicities who feel gender discrimination to see if they experience more PMS/PMDD. There’s every reason to think that this form of bias causes stress for all women—and we know what stress can do.