Premenstrual women wrongly labelled as mentally ill

12 September 2014

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is wrong to define premenstrual symptoms as a psychiatric disorder, an Australian National University (ANU) researcher said, labelling the decision as unethical and oppressive against women.

The latest edition of the APA Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has included a new mental condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) – supposedly a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

But research by Dr Tamara Kayali Browne, from ANU Research School of Biology, said it was clear PMDD was not really a mental disorder and it should not be listed in the DSM.

“I am hoping PMDD will be seen as a form of sexism against women and that people will call for it to be deleted from the manual because I don’t think it should be there at all,” Dr Browne said.

She said the symptoms women suffered were real and should be treated, but not as a mental illness.

Her research showed that studies of women who present with the so-called PMDD symptoms found that the majority suffer from abuse, or problems with their work or relationships.

“It is not actually a medical disorder but a problem with their lives that should be addressed,” she said.

Dr Browne’s paper, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, shows that PMDD is a culture-bound phenomenon, not a universal one.

“If it was a biological disorder you would expect it among women globally,” she said. “So why is it that Western women seem to suffer much more from PMS and PMDD than women in developing countries?”

PMDD is now set to be included as a separate disorder in the upcoming edition of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Statistical Classifications of Diseases and Related Health Problems.

Dr Browne strongly argued against any WHO listing of PMDD.

“My paper argues that PMDD should not be listed in any of these medical publications, and that evidence for doing so is misplaced,” she said.