Thyroid health is something that isn’t as widely discussed as it should be. Many of us are simply unaware of the impact poor thyroid health can have on our overall well-being.
Perhaps the least understood aspect of thyroid health relates to the role this gland and its function in hormone release plays in supporting mental health. All too often, people consider the impact on physical wellbeing and little attention is given to mental health.
Let’s take a closer look at this relationship, as well as establishing some of the best ways to support your thyroid health.
The psychological symptoms of thyroid problems
Some of the most common thyroid disorders include hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), thyroid cancer and thyroid-related eye conditions. What many people don’t know is that people with thyroid disorders often have mental and emotional health symptoms as well as physical symptoms.
According to studies, some of the most prominent symptoms of an overactive thyroid are nervousness, anxiety, irritability and mood swings. It can also cause difficulty sleeping, as well as increased tiredness, weakness and sensitivity. Similarly, an underactive thyroid can also result in tiredness, as well as feelings of depression and low mood.
Whatever kind of thyroid disorder you develop, it will likely make you feel more emotional, and result in rapid and unpredictable changes in mood. Thyroid under activity has also been known to cause significant cognitive concerns such as difficulties with concentration, short-term memory lapses, a lack of interest and a reduction in mental alertness.
What causes these issues?
So how does a problem with your thyroid result in mental and emotional concerns? The answer lies in the abnormal thyroid hormone levels caused by thyroid disorders. Rapid changes in hormone levels can unsettle the emotions, and an unstable thyroid leads to unstable hormone release.
Sometimes the psychological impact of a thyroid disorder can be the result of secondary stimuli. The stress of battling illness can lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression, creating a vicious cycle. Likewise, thyroid disorders can result in physical changes like weight loss or gain, and hair loss, all of which can have an impact on confidence and mood.
Are Thyroid and Depression More Common in Women Than Men?
Yes, women are more prone to develop thyroid conditions than men. Women are also more likely to suffer from depression than men. Owing to biology, women are more susceptible to hormone-induced depression.
Several major hormonal changes that take place in a woman’s life can cause depression and low mood:
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Postpartum depression – depression after the delivery of the baby
- Menopause – depression around cessation of menses
A number of different medical practitioners and researchers have written books about how thyroid problems can negatively affect brain and contribute to mental illness:
- “Brain cells have more thyroid hormone receptors than any other tissue, which means that a proper uptake of thyroid hormone is essential for the brain cells to work properly.” – Dr. Barry Durrant-Peatfield, MD, Author of Your Thyroid and How to Keep It Healthy.
- “How much of what we call “mental illness” is actually thyroid-driven? In my experience, a vast majority.” – Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD, Author of A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives.
- “T3 [thyroid hormone] is actually a bona fide neurotransmitter. If you don’t have enough T3, or if its action is blocked, an entire cascade of neurotransmitter abnormalities may ensue, which can lead to mood and energy changes, including depression and anxiety.”– Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD, Author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing.
- “Scientists now consider thyroid hormone one of the major players in brain chemistry disorders. And as with any brain chemical disorder, until treated correctly, thyroid hormone imbalance has serious effects on the patient’s emotions and behavior.” – Dr. Ridha Arem, MD, Author of The Thyroid Solution: A Mind Body Program for Beating Depression and Regaining Your Emotional and Physical Health.
So if you struggle with brain or mental illness, you likely do not need a prescription for antidepressants, antipsychotics and antianxiety medication. What you really need is to support your thyroid. At Atlantic Endocrinology & Diabetes Center we treat the underlying thyroid problem, it is critical to alleviating the associated psychiatric symptoms.
It is quite confusing at times to determine whether a person has depression or a thyroid imbalance because both have similar symptoms. Also, just having tested normal for TSH does not imply you do not have a thyroid imbalance. You need to check on your T3 and T4 levels as well, to determine whether you have a thyroid problem or not.