If you suffer from the debilitating symptoms of PMDD, also known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, it may surprise you to learn that up until now, it has been at the margins—or, more accurately, in the appendix—of mainstream psychological thinking in the U.S. That’s because the formal guide to the diagnosis of mental illness, the DSM-IV, listed PMDD at the back of the book, in its appendix, where conditions that the psychiatric profession wasn’t sure about were listed. Now, PMDD appears to be poised to join other recognized illnesses and conditions in the main section of the upcoming new DSM-V.
If you’ve been diagnosed with PMDD, or wondered if you have PMDD, you might be a little disconcerted to learn that it is considered a mental illness – but for any condition to be treated by medical doctors with psychiatric medications like Prozac® or Sarafem® (Fluoxetine®) and other SSRIs, it has to be listed in the DSM and is then called a mental illness.
The downside of this, of course, is that there is a social stigma associated with the word “mental illness.” Many people don’t realize that by itself, it is just a label that doesn’t really mean anything, and that millions of people have depression and other “mental” illnesses that we now understand are physical ailments like any other – they just happen to affect the brain, instead of joints or kidneys or other structures.
One potential upside to PMDD’s promotion to the main section of the DSM-V, up from the appendix, is an increased recognition of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, with more attention to research and investigation on possible causes and cures likely to follow.
An interesting side note: with an increasing recognition of PMDD, there will be a tendency for general practitioners to make this diagnosis, even though gynecologists and psychiatrists are probably more familiar with the condition, its diagnostic criteria, and how to manage it. PMDD can’t be diagnosed in your typical 5-15 minute doctor’s visit.
Another evolving factor to keep an eye on: it is now recognized at the highest levels of research and medicine that SSRIs—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Prozac®, Sarafem® and Zoloft®—don’t work for depression through helping with serotonin levels in the brain. In fact, they don’t work any differently than placebo, a fact that is causing tremendous reverberations in the world of mental health.
This may not be true for PMDD: since it hasn’t been studied, we don’t know if SSRIs work differently in PMDD than they do in depression. But this is unlikely, since the use of Fluoxetine® for PMDD grew out of the similarities between depression and what used to be called late luteal phase disorder. So as the whole paradigm of serotonin deficiency begins to crumble, the treatment of PMDD may change too—perhaps just in time for the DSM-VI.