Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Linked to Hormone-Sensitive Brain Disorder

Summary: A new study reveals that 34% of people with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) have attempted suicide. Researchers say PMDD is an independent contributor to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Source: University of Illinois

A new global study published in BMC Psychiatry reports that 34% of people with premenstrual dysphoric disorder have attempted suicide.  

The study is the largest of its kind to examine rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among people diagnosed with the disorder by a health care provider based on daily symptom ratings, the only reliable method currently available. 

Because previous studies of suicide and ideation have relied on less valid self-reported measures of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which is commonly called PMDD, the new findings offer the strongest scientific evidence to date that the disorder is likely an independent contributor to suicidal thoughts and actions.    

“We’ve uncovered an extremely worrying rate of suicide ideation and attempts among those with PMDD, highlighting the need to take this issue seriously,” said Tory Eisenlohr-Moul, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois Chicago and lead author of the study.

“These findings offer powerful evidence that the link between PMDD and suicide is independent of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental health conditions that are known to increase ideation and attempts.”   

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a cyclical, hormone-based disorder that impacts approximately 1 in 20 reproductive-age women who were assigned female at birth. The condition is often underdiagnosed, misdiagnosed or dismissed entirely by medical professionals, despite patient reports of debilitating anxiety, hopelessness and a variety of physical symptoms in the two weeks before menses. 

To better understand PMDD, the researchers analyzed information from the Global Survey of Premenstrual Disorders, which included 3,153 people from over 56 countries and more than 2,000 responses.

The survey was conducted by the International Association for Premenstrual Disorders, Me v PMDD and Vicious Cycle to help understand the scope of premenstrual disorders and the impact of PMDD.

Analysis of the information provided by the 599 respondents who reported a prior daily ratings-based diagnosis of PMDD by a health care provider (23% of respondents) revealed that 34% have attempted suicide during a PMDD episode. On average, patients waited 12 years and saw around six providers before receiving an accurate diagnosis of PMDD. 

The data also showed high rates of lifetime active suicidal ideation (72%), planning (49%), intent (42%) and preparing (40%) for an attempt, and non-suicidal self-injury (51%) among patients with PMDD diagnoses.

Low-to-moderate income, history of major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder and nulliparity – never giving birth – were predictors of lifetime active suicidal ideation and attempts. Older age and borderline personality disorder were additional predictors of lifetime attempts. 

Rates of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors also were broken down by those with only PMDD and those with PMDD who also reported having received at least one other mental health diagnosis, like depression.

Even among those who had never received another mental health diagnosis, rates were high: 67% reported active suicidal ideation, compared to 74% who also had psychological comorbidity, for example.

Eisenlohr-Moul said she’d expect to see a far greater difference in rates between categories if thoughts and behaviors were only, or even mostly, due to other underlying mental health problems.

The data suggests to her that women who are neurobiologically sensitive to hormone changes, as in the case with PMDD, may be at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior.  

“One of the big challenges with PMDD is that the medical community has not just been slow to understand this condition but even to believe it exists,” said Eisenlohr-Moul, who is also chair of IAPMD’s clinical advisory board.

“Providers and communities often dismiss patients’ concerns, in part because women’s complaints are less likely to be taken seriously than men’s but also because of persistent and even sexist stigma and misconceptions around menstruation in general.”  

Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Linked to Hormone-Sensitive Brain Disorder
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a cyclical, hormone-based disorder that impacts approximately 1 in 20 reproductive-age women who were assigned female at birth. Image is in the public domain

“PMDD is not a hormone imbalance. It is a neurobiological sensitivity to natural and normal changes in progesterone and estrogen levels,” she said.   

“Our study reveals just how destructive PMDD is,” said Sandi MacDonald, co-founder and executive director of the International Association for Premenstrual Disorders.

“This is a galvanizing movement in women’s health. PMDD is a perfect storm where #MeToo and #TimesUp, meet mental health awareness, meets suicide prevention.” 

While PMDD has been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders since 2013 as a major depressive disorder, there is still no recommended standard screening of suicidal ideation in patients with the condition.  

Funding: The research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (R00MH109667, RF1MH120843, R01MH122446 and K01MH116325). The International Association for Premenstrual Disorders has received funding through a Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Award (EA20240).

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About this suicide research news

Author: Jacqueline Carey
Source: University of Illinois
Contact: Jacqueline Carey – University of Illinois
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
“Prevalence of lifetime self-injurious thoughts and behaviors in a global sample of 599 patients reporting prospectively confirmed diagnosis with premenstrual dysphoric disorder” by Tory Eisenlohr-Moul, et al. BMC Psychiatry


Abstract

Prevalence of lifetime self-injurious thoughts and behaviors in a global sample of 599 patients reporting prospectively confirmed diagnosis with premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Background

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 34, with alarming recent increases in suicide rates among those assigned female at birth. A large body of evidence points to menstrual cycle influences on self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (STBs), suggesting that neurobiological hormone sensitivities, such as in premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), may drive suicide risk in females.

However, existing studies of STBs in PMDD use cross-sectional self-report measures of PMDD with poor validity. As a first step to establish accurate prevalence rates of STBs in PMDD, we examined the lifetime prevalence of STBs in a large global survey of patients reporting a diagnosis of PMDD based on daily ratings.

Method

Individuals with self-reported PMDD symptoms were invited to an online survey through online support groups for PMDD and social media posts from PMDD awareness accounts. Participants reported demographics, whether they had been diagnosed with PMDD by a healthcare provider using daily ratings, STBs using the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale, and history of lifetime comorbid psychiatric diagnoses.

Results

Of 2,689 survey completers, 599 (23%) reported a diagnosis with PMDD based on two months of daily ratings and were included in analyses. We observed high rates of lifetime active suicidal ideation (72%), planning (49%), intent (42%), preparing for an attempt (40%), and attempt (34%), as well as non-suicidal self-injury (51%).

The majority (70%) of the sample reported at least one lifetime comorbid psychiatric diagnosis. Predictors of lifetime active suicidal ideation included nulliparity, low-to-moderate (vs. high) income, and history of diagnosis with major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Predictors of lifetime attempts among those reporting lifetime active ideation included older age, nulliparity, lower income, and history of diagnosis with post-traumatic stress disorder or borderline personality disorder.

Conclusions

These data indicate high rates of STBs among those reporting prospective diagnosis of PMDD and highlight the need for prospective research on mechanisms and prevention of STBs in PMDD. Clinical practice guidelines for PMDD should accommodate comorbidities and recommend frequent screenings for STB risk. STBs should be considered for inclusion in future iterations of the DSM PMDD diagnostic criteria.

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