Most women experience an emotional roller coaster before they get their period and every man knows this is the time to step back and allow the woman to unleash her feelings and tears without holding a grudge against her for her reactions. The truth is that science does not agree on the definition, cause, treatment or existence of PMS [premenstrual syndrome], psychologist Robyn Stein DeLuca said during a TED event.
There is a general assumption that fluctuations in reproductive hormones are the reason why extreme emotions occur and that the great majority of women are affected by this. Newspapers and magazines claim that up to 90 per cent of women suffer from PMS and that this “condition” plays an essential role in women’s mental and physical health. Psychologists insist that PMS involves cognitive, physical and negative behavioural symptoms from the time of ovulation to menstruation and that more than 150 different symptoms are used to diagnose this so-called medical condition.
Some researchers believe women must have five symptoms, some say three, others consider that symptoms are meaningful only if they are highly disturbing. Many studies ask women to report their symptoms retrospectively which inflates reporting of PMS and others focus exclusively on white, middle-class women. A lot of studies fail to use control groups and there is an array of questionnaires used to diagnose this medical condition, focusing on different symptoms, as well as on their duration and severity.
In 1994, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) redefined PMS as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Its guidelines note that at least five of 11 possible symptoms must appear in the week before menstruation starts, but they have to be absent the week after menstruation has ended, DeLuca pointed out. Using the criteria in the guidelines, “we see that on average, three to eight per cent of women suffer from PMDD,” the psychologist explained.
Therefore, it goes without saying that not all women suffer from PMDD. Feminist psychologists like Joan Chrisler have indicated that the label of “PMS” allows women to express emotions that would, in other circumstances, by considered unladylike. A woman with PMS is absolved of responsibility or criticism, but this label has a negative impact on women’s image, because it contributes to the stereotype of women as overemotional and irrational and questions their competence.
Although PMS does not actually exist, an entire industry has formed around it. Amazon.com offers a collection of more than 1,900 books on PMS treatment and a short Google search will bring up numerous workshops, clinics and seminars. When women are prescribed drugs like hormones or anti-depressants, medical protocol requires that they pay visits to the doctor every three months, so the pharmaceutical industry benefits greatly from a condition which does not even exist.
Plus, psychologists know that the moods of men and women are not that different, which means they experience the same number and severity of mood swings. The PMS myth prevents women from dealing with the actual issues that cause them emotional upset and from understanding the source of their negative emotions.
The good news about PMS is that even if some women experience some symptoms because of the menstrual cycle, the great majority do not get a mental disorder, DeLuca concluded.