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16th Apr 2024

The mental impacts of living with PCOS may be just as severe as the physical, according to research

Jody Coffey


Trigger Warning: This article mentions suicide.

PCOS is a condition that affects millions of women

Researchers find those with PCOS had a higher risk of mental health issues than similar women without the condition

According to the HSE, it is believed that one in five women of childbearing age suffers from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

It is estimated that PCOS affects an estimated eight to 13% of reproductive-aged women worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

PCOS is an often painful condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work, as well as other aspects of health such as fertility, hormones, and periods.

Outside of the physical woes of this condition, research has shown that the mental aspect can be just as detrimental for women.

Women diagnosed with PCOS may have an increased risk of attempting suicide, according to researchers in Taiwan.

Writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine published the findings of the research, conducted by Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan, where nationwide data was analysed.

The scope includes 8,960 women and girls aged 12 to 64 diagnosed with PCOS, covering a period from 1997 to 2012. None of these females had a history of suicide attempts.

The researchers took into account health conditions and demographics, as well as psychiatric disorders.

They found that those with PCOS had an 8.47-fold higher risk for suicide attempts than women without PCOS but who otherwise had similar characteristics.

According to the findings, the risk of suicide attempts was 5.38 times higher for adolescents, 9.15 times higher for adults under 40, and 3.75 times higher for older adults, compared to a standard baseline.

The authors of the study concluded that these findings may be linked to the impact of living with PCOS, including potential infertility and worries over body image.

“Body image concerns, including perceived obesity and acne, have been associated with suicide risk during adolescence, and these problems are common among adolescents with PCOS,” researchers wrote.

Additional struggles for young adults, such as financial worries, relationship issues, and unemployment, also were cited.

For older adults, researchers suspect an improvement of PCOS symptoms for the decline in increased risk.

It’s important to note, that the research has limitations.

These include the inability to prove cause and effect, as well as being unable to take into consideration all of the possible factors that may link PCOS and suicide.

Credit: Getty

Physical Symptoms

Living with PCOS can mean at least two of the following will occur for the patient, and often all three:

  • At least 12 follicles (tiny cysts) develop in your ovaries (Polycystic means many cysts) – it’s possible to have PCOS without multiple cysts on the ovary too.
  • Hormone balance is altered. In particular, your ovaries make more testosterone (male hormone) than normal.
  • In PCOS, although the ovaries usually have many follicles, they do not develop fully so ovulation often does not occur. If you do not ovulate then you do not have a period. Some women with PCOS do not ovulate at all.

Ovaries with PCOS are larger and have twice the number of follicles.

Eggs are released from sacs during ovulation, but those with PCOS are unable to release an egg which means that ovulation doesn’t take place each month.

This can cause the sufferer to stop having periods, to have irregular periods, or to have difficulty becoming pregnant.

It can be possible to have PCOS without the typical associated or physical symptoms but they might have problems with their periods or difficulty in getting pregnant.

Meanwhile, some women experience more severe symptoms.

Several symptoms usually occur during a female’s late teens or early 20s that can indicate they have PCOS:

  • irregular periods or no periods at all
  • difficulty getting pregnant (because your ovaries are not producing eggs or are not producing them regularly)
  • excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back, or buttocks
  • weight gain
  • thinning hair and hair loss from the head
  • oily skin or acne

If you have any of these symptoms and believe you may have PCOS, you should contact your GP.

Getting a diagnosis

Diagnosing PCOS can be difficult as the same symptoms can also show up in other conditions.

The diagnostic criteria for PCOS can usually be made if other rare causes of the same symptoms have been ruled out.

Two of the following symptoms need to be present to diagnose PCOS:

  • You have irregular or infrequent periods or no periods at all
  • You have increased hair growth on your face or body, or blood tests show you’ve higher levels of testosterone than usual
  • An ultrasound scan shows you have polycystic ovaries

Blood tests to check hormone levels and ultrasounds to scan for features of PCOS may be recommended when searching for a diagnosis.


After receiving a diagnosis, your GP will usually advise on a course of treatment or refer you to a specialist, especially if you are trying to get pregnant.

This may be a gynecologist, endocrinologist, or fertility specialist. They will aim to put together a plan to manage symptoms.

If you’re struggling with suicidal ideation or any mental health issues then you can contact Samaritans on 116 123. You can also contact Text About It, the free, anonymous, 24/7 messaging service.