Written by Vicky Sarris, Provisional Psychologist
Chronic health conditions can dramatically change the way someone navigates their everyday life. Two common and largely unspoken issues which affect women are endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). While these conditions have more recently gained media attention due to improvements in medical treatment, their psychological impact remains largely overlooked. Dive deeper below to discover how therapy can offer hope alongside medical treatments.
What is Endometriosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
Endometriosis and PCOS are gynaecological conditions that can influence a woman’s fertility. Both conditions can be harrowing in nature and unpredictable in their presentation.
Endometriosis occurs when the endometrium (uterus lining) grows outside its natural location. This can lead to various symptoms, from abdominal and pelvic pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, and discomfort during intimacy, to infertility.
On the other hand, PCOS is characterized by numerous fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries due to heightened androgen levels. Women with PCOS might notice excessive facial and body hair, irregular periods, acne, and even an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
The Prevalence of These Conditions
Approximately one in nine women of reproductive age (between late adolescence and menopause) may be diagnosed with endometriosis or PCOS. While a formal diagnosis can provide comfort and relief to some sufferers, living with chronic pain can be challenging, as can other physical changes to the body.
Understanding Chronic Pain
Chronic pain, also known as persistent pain, typically lasts more than three months, can range from mild to severe in intensity, and is usually experienced on more days than not. It can interfere with personal commitments, social connections, and work-life balance, severely impacting one’s overall life quality.
More than one in every two adults with chronic pain can become anxious (e.g., increased worry, mood swings) or depressed (e.g., low mood) due to the debilitating nature of the condition. Higher levels of anxiety or depression can intensify physical discomfort, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle of helplessness. The sporadic nature of pelvic pain in endometriosis and PCOS makes emotional wellness even more elusive.
However, it’s essential to note that there’s hope. Though a definitive cure might be elusive, a comprehensive management plan can restore a semblance of normalcy. Psychological interventions such as therapy, combined with self-management techniques, can be transformative.
The Broader Impact on Mental Health
Excessive hair growth, hair loss, acne, and weight gain are common symptoms among people living with endometriosis and PCOS. Many women can feel distressed by these visible changes and how much their self-esteem and image can change. Engaging with a psychologist to discuss and explore techniques that encourage self-acceptance and compassion can be beneficial in coping with adjustments in diminished body image and self-confidence.
Maintaining relationships can be difficult for individuals who experience symptoms of endometriosis and PCOS. Chronic pain flare ups can be overwhelming and may lead to cancelling plans with friends and family or calling in sick at work. Some people may find it difficult to discuss their symptoms and manage them in situations where they feel they have no choice but to push through. Speaking to a psychologist can be helpful in approaching challenging discussions and also in learning to develop and practice coping mechanisms and self-care.
Emotional and physical symptoms (e.g., pain related with sex) associated with endometriosis and PCOS can also affect libido and sexual intimacy in relationships. Some women may find this challenging, especially those who struggle to disclose or discuss their condition. It can be helpful to seek help from a psychologist to learn to communicate needs and explore techniques to reduce anxiety associated with intimacy and intercourse.
While pregnancy can often be a happy occasion, it is also not uncommon for women to experience stress when trying to get pregnant. Individuals diagnosed with endometriosis and PCOS may experience increased anxiety and stress associated with the decreased probability of naturally conceiving. Along with seeking medical advice from a GP and gynaecologist, speaking to a psychologist can assist in identifying and addressing life stressors and having a further pillar of support. Furthermore, discussing the challenges associated with conceiving can often be therapeutic.
For women who experience heartache associated with infertility, coming to terms with and acceptance of reality can be onerous, especially when done alone. Having the space to talk about the emotions related to loss and seeking support in coping are essential in maintaining wellbeing and re-evaluating life goals and purpose.
Where to Find Support
Whether it be related to endometriosis, PCOS, or any other chronic health related issue, our clinicians are here to listen and help. Your mental wellbeing is just as vital as your physical wellbeing. Please get in touch if you are interested in services to support your mental health and wellbeing.