Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that impacts 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. It can cause a range of symptoms, including metabolism issues, acne, unwanted hair growth and infertility. Now, a new study finds PCOS is linked with a dramatically higher risk of suicide too.
The Taiwan-based study, which was published Monday in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed data from more than 18,000 women and found that those who were diagnosed with PCOS were more than eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those who didn’t have the condition.
What’s going on here? Women’s health experts break it down.
Why is PCOS linked with suicide?
It’s important to point out that this isn’t the first time PCOS has been linked with suicide. A nationwide Swedish study published in 2016 found that women with PCOS were 40% more likely to attempt suicide than other women, and a 2022 study found that a recent PCOS diagnosis was linked with a higher risk of suicidal thoughts.
“We know that women with PCOS often have greater risks of mental health conditions and other medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure,” Hillary Ammon, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Anxiety & Women’s Emotional Wellness, tells Yahoo Life. “All of these conditions can be risk factors that can worsen depression, which in turn, could increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts.”
But while a link has been established between PCOS and suicidal thoughts, it’s not entirely clear why this exists. “The really big question is, why is it more common in patients with PCOS?” Dr. Michelle Roach, assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt Health, tells Yahoo Life. “That’s something we don’t have a clear answer for.”
Dealing with PCOS symptoms can be stressful, though, Dr. Tamar Gur, a women’s health expert and reproductive psychiatrist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “People with PCOS are at an increased risk for infertility. If they want to have a family, that can cause stress,” she says.
Irregular menstrual cycles and changes in hormones that come with them could also be a factor, Gur adds. “All women go through hormonal fluctuations of menstruation, but there’s a subset of women who are exquisitely susceptible to these hormonal fluctuations,” she says.
Feeling discouraged and frustrated dealing with PCOS can also make symptoms of depression worse, Ammon notes. There”s this to consider too: “Many women report feeling dismissed or being misdiagnosed after sharing their symptoms with medical providers,” Ammon says.
How to get help and support with PCOS
There are treatments available for PCOS and, if you’ve been diagnosed with the condition, Gur says, it’s important to talk to a doctor to make sure you’re getting the treatment you deserve. Those can include hormonal birth control, antiandrogen medicines and metformin, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health, but it’s crucial to talk to your doctor about your lifestyle and family planning goals to see what is the best fit for you, Gur says. “This is a serious condition that should be taken seriously,” she says.
If you feel like you’re struggling mentally and you have PCOS, Roach recommends reaching out to your health care provider, whether it’s a primary care physician or ob-gyn. They should be able to refer you to a mental health therapist who can help.
Gur stresses that help is available.“I don’t want people to feel like they’re doomed if they have PCOS,” she says. “This is real and you should have a low bar for reaching out for help. This is something to take seriously.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.