January is thyroid awareness month so I wanted to touch on some of the issues that come up with this particular gland that can provoke or worsen mental health issues. According to the American Thyroid Association approximately 12% of the United States will have some sort of thyroid issue during their lifetime. Additionally, women are 5-8x more likely than men to have a disorder of the thyroid and many people, around 60% don’t even know that they are struggling with a thyroid issue! The thyroid can have significant effects on mental health due to its role in regulating various bodily functions, including metabolism and neurotransmitter (serotonin, dopamine, etc.) production. Two common thyroid disorders, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), can impact mental health in various different ways, so let’s take a look.
- Depression: Hypothyroidism has been associated with symptoms of depression. The low levels of thyroid hormones can affect serotonin levels in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter linked to mood regulation. Around 40% of people with hypothyroidism may struggle with some level of depression due to their condition.
- Fatigue and Cognitive Issues: Individuals with hypothyroidism may experience fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and memory issues. These symptoms can contribute to feelings of frustration and stress.
- Slowed Mental Functioning: Hypothyroidism can slow down various bodily processes, including mental functioning. This may lead to a feeling of mental fog or sluggishness.
- Anxiety and Irritability: Hyperthyroidism can lead to an overproduction of thyroid hormones, which may cause symptoms such as anxiety, nervousness, and irritability.
- Insomnia: Difficulty sleeping is a common symptom of hyperthyroidism. Sleep disturbances can contribute to mood changes and worsen anxiety.
- Hyperactivity: In some cases, individuals with hyperthyroidism may experience hyperactivity, restlessness, and difficulty sitting still.
As with most conditions, the impact of thyroid disorders on mental health can vary significantly from person to person. Additionally, other factors such as personal stressors, genetic predisposition, and overall health can contribute to mental health conditions.
Treatment of thyroid disorders and co-existing psychiatric conditions can both be treated and allow for patients to live full lives. Working with a consultation liaison psychiatrist can significantly help this progress as they can work towards the recovery as the coordinator of the team.