Associates Breakfast Tackles Women's Mental Health

Posted on May 14, 2011

Most women, at one time or another, have had a bad mood or justifiable anger condescendingly written off with a comment like, “Oh, it must be that time of the month.” As annoying as these facile dismissals are, there is no denying that a woman’s mental health can be broadly impacted by chemical changes that occur in her body over the course of her lifetime. Menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause are all events that can create mental health issues or exacerbate existing ones. Until recently, these conditions were taken lightly or stigmatized, but an increase in public awareness and in the development of successful intervention strategies is giving affected women new hope. This was the topic of the first annual Fountain House Associates Spring Breakfast.

Jennifer Oken of the Associates Committee warmly welcomed the audience of over 80 women, and Kathleen Kocatas introduced the two distinguished speakers: Dr. C. Neill Epperson, Director of the Penn Center for Women’s Behavioral Wellness, and Dr. Shari Lusskin, Director of Reproductive Psychiatry at NYU Medical Center and NYU School of Medicine. Both doctors are engaged in ground-breaking work to improve knowledge about and care for women with psychiatric disorders that present in relation to the reproductive life cycle.

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Dr. Lusskin noted that perinatal psychiatric disorders affect a significant portion of pregnant women. For example, 15% experience depression, making it one of the most common pregnancy-related complications. In the past, doctors were loath to diagnose these disorders, because they felt that there was no suitable treatment. However, Dr. Lusskin underscored that the risk of untreated mental illness is much greater than the risk of medication therapy, as it not only affects a mother’s health but often has a lasting, intergenerational impact on family dynamics.
Dr. Epperson talked about hormonal changes and their effect on the brain across a woman’s lifespan. She stated that anxiety and depression - symptoms associated with conditions like PMS, the more severe PMDD, and menopause - aren’t due to high or low levels of hormones, but rather, to how the brain is affected by these hormones. The brain’s ability to adjust to varying hormone levels changes over time. Dr. Epperson remarked that most women don’t seek treatment for menstruation-related conditions until perimenopause, because they feel it is part of their plight, but she encouraged any woman struggling with these issues to seek medical advice.
Both presenters were informative and engaging, and the audience eagerly participated in the Q&A session that followed.  Kate Allen closed the morning with an invitation for the guests to return for the second annual breakfast in 2012.
The Fountain House Associates Host Committee for this event was comprised of Kate Allen, Byrdie Bell, Donya Bommer, Sarah Goldstein, Kathleen Kocatas, Jennifer Oken, Lil Philips, Madeleine Potvin, Elizabeth Pyne, Katie Tozer, and Katie Zorn. 
Dr. Epperson, the ssociates Host Committee, Lorna Hyde Graev, and Dr. LusskinDr. Epperson, the ssociates Host Committee, Lorna Hyde Graev, and Dr. Lusskin

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