It’s not just an annoyance – for some, menstrual hormones could lead to suicide risk, according to researchers. (Credit: Raw Pixel)

A new study points to a disturbing connection between menstruation and suicide risk.

Researchers from the University of Illinois-Chicago have discovered that mental health complications as severe as suicidal thoughts, plans or actions were most frequently reported right before or as bleeding began, by a group of 119 participants who filled out daily surveys chronicling their thoughts and feelings.

And, researchers add, premenstrual dysphoric disorder – a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, which causes significant mood swings – was not a factor in about 60% of cases involving suicidal thoughts or acts. 

“This study establishes that the menstrual cycle can affect many people who have suicidal thoughts, which makes it one of the only predictable time-based risk factors that has been identified for detecting when a suicide attempt might occur,” Tory Eisenlohr-Moul, associate professor of psychiatry at UIC and senior author of the paper, told Fast Company.

And that insight could save scores of lives. Overall, men are statistically far more likely to contemplate or die by suicide – but thousands of women are still at risk of losing their lives in this fashion each year. In the U.S., it’s one of the leading causes of death.

Previous efforts to assess a relationship between the two phenomena often fell short in terms of measuring the scope of the problem, researchers add. “Research on the menstrual cycle and suicide has been limited historically by small, cross-sectional samples,” the team wrote in the study, which was recently published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

“As clinicians, we feel responsible for keeping our patients safe from a suicide attempt, but we often don’t have much information about when we need to be more worried,” notes Eisenlohr-Moul. But with the findings of this study, doctors will now be able to better protect and assist their menstruating patients, the team asserts.

She added: “We’re excited to use the best methods out there to try to create individual prediction models for each person, so that we’re not putting people into a box.”

Note: If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988. Or, look for resources specific to your area.