Women who experience severe anxiety and depression leading up to the onset of their menstrual periods now have an official, diagnosable mental disorder.
The name of the disorder is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD, and it differs from run-of-the-mill PMS in its intensity. While PMS affects about 85 percent of women to some degree and is more of an annoyance than a debilitating condition, PMDD is thought to hit only between 1 and 8 percent of women.
To qualify as PMDD, a woman’s psychological symptoms must be disruptive to her normal life, preventing her from carrying out everyday business.
Previously, PMDD had been widely thought of as “PMS on steroids.” Or worse, women suffering from the condition were simply dismissed as hysterical. But in the new revision of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, PMDD is listed as a distinct mental disorder for the first time.
While the inclusion of PMDD in the manual makes it easier for women to seek help if they are afflicted with the condition, doctors worry it could also be used against women, playing to the stereotype of women as overly emotional and moody.
“I think any time a disorder occurs more frequently in women or only in women, there’s going to be a group of individuals who have concern that this will diminish women’s role in society, their sense of being capable,” Neil Epperson, a doctor who was part of the group charged with updating the manual, told National Public Radio.
Sarah Gehlert, a health researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, shares those concerns.
“Say a poor woman was in court, trying to see whether she could keep custody of her child,” Gehlert told NPR. “Her partner’s or spouse’s attorney might say, ‘Yes, your honor, but she has a mental disorder.’ And she might not get custody of her children.”
Gehlert also says that drug companies may swoop in, marketing new drugs to capitalize on the new disorder. It’s already happened. Eli Lilly, makers of Prozac, simply repackaged its signature antidepressant drug in a pink package, changed the name to Sarafem and sold it as a treatment for PMDD.
Eli Lilly even ran ads for Serafem, but the Food and Drug Administration found the ads so misleading in the way they treated PMDD as just another irritating form of PMS that it ordered the drug company to pull them off the air.
Watch the original Sarafem ads below.