Scientists have found a gene that may cause the extreme form of PMS known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (sometimes treated with Prozac, pictured). But should the disorder be considered a mental illness?
According to Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert of Newsweek, a study at the Rockefeller University showed that female mice with a gene variant called "brain-derived neurotropic factor Met" had memory problems and anxiety at certain points in their menstrual cycle."Women aren't mice," Kantrowitz and Wingert note, but 20-30% of women have the same gene variant, and PMDD sufferers experience some of the same symptoms as the mice. Lead study author Joanna Spencer says, "On a broader scale, I think that this kind of research shows that hormones do affect the brain, and they do affect behavior."
So if hormones affect the brain, do those most profoundly affected suffer from a mental disorder? That's what the American Psychiatric Association will decide when it determines whether to include PMDD in the DSM-5. Kantrowitz and Wingert write, "The American Psychiatric Association first considered adding PMDD to an earlier edition of the manual 20 years ago, but women's health advocates protested, claiming that making PMDD an official disorder would pathologize female biology and incorrectly label women as mentally ill." But as with so many disorders, that "label" might convince insurance companies to pay for treatment. And for some women, scientific recognition of their premenstrual problems might be comforting.