April 19, 2024

Spilling the Tea: Tonia Jahshan Talks PMDD

The Sipology Founder and Dragon’s Den Alumna Dishes on living with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

There’s a mental health condition that’s more common than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – and yet most Canadians have never heard of it. Tonia Jahshan, the Ancaster-based founder of Sipology and Dragon’s Den success story is determined to change that.

A few years ago, after a particularly stressful time at work, Tonia began experiencing bouts of anger that were uncharacteristic for her. She lost focus, was quick to ire or cry, and even admitted to being downright mean at times – particularly preceding the onset of her menstrual period. “My mood swings were so severe, that I started marking the week before my period on our family activity calendar so that they would know when to tread lightly,” says Tonia.

But when her moods started to affect her relationships at work and at home, Tonia knew it was time to ask for help. She went to her family doctor and was referred to the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic at St. Joe’s. After tracking both her mood and her menstrual cycle for two months, Tonia was diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

“The doctor’s appointment when I was diagnosed with PMDD was the first time I had ever heard those words,” says Tonia. “While I was relieved to have a reason for the way I’d been acting and feeling for months, I remember being scared, too, because I had no idea what PMDD was or if it was treatable.”

Turns out, premenstrual dysphoric disorder is very common and very treatable.

It’s estimated that between 1.5 and 6 percent of Canadian women experience PMDD – making it just slightly less common than post-partum depression. Yet PMDD is far more likely to go undiagnosed.

“I think too often, we dismiss the symptoms we’re feeling as ‘just PMS’ or the rite of passage for being a woman,” says Tonia. “But PMDD is much more serious than that. It affected my ability to work, sleep or concentrate. I was experiencing migraines, binge eating, and then feeling self-loathing. For two weeks a month, I was quite frankly, unable to be the leader, the friend, the mom and the wife I wanted to be.”

According to Dr. Benicio Frey, the Medical Director of the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Tonia’s experience isn’t all that unique since in addition to PMDD often being chalked up to simply symptoms of PMS, it can also be challenging to detect and diagnose.

“PMDD is caused by an abnormal response in the brain to normal fluctuations in hormone levels,” says Dr. Frey. “Because hormonal fluctuations happen naturally during a woman’s menstrual cycle, in the perinatal period, during the menopausal transition, and throughout life’s stages, a simple blood test won’t show any abnormalities. It’s only by monitoring a client’s mood, their physical and emotional symptoms, and their menstrual cycle together that we can accurately diagnose PMDD.”

To help clients at the WHCC to track this data, Dr. Frey and his colleagues at St. Joe’s and McMaster University have developed an app called MAC-PMSS that’s available for free in the App Store. Following symptom tracking and a diagnosis, there are several natural, pharmacological and therapy-based interventions available to women depending on their age, life-stage and symptoms.

Today, Tonia takes a prescription medication to help manage her PMDD as she builds an international empire in sip-able products and teas. She’s sharing her story as the 2024 Community Champion for the Shoppers Drug Mart Run for Women supporting Women’s Mental Health and Addictions Care at St. Joe’s – the Hospital that helped her manage living with PMDD.

“PMDD is the next perimenopause. It’s something so many women are experiencing, but somehow, it’s still too taboo to talk about,” says Tonia. “But I’ve been breaking glass ceilings and transforming traditional business model moulds for years now. So, I’m spilling the tea and talking about PMDD.”

The Shoppers Drug Mart Run for Women is the largest national event dedicated to raising funds to support women’s mental health and addiction care. The Hamilton edition takes place on Sunday, June 9 at Confederation Park and supports the work of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation.

If you think you may be living with PMDD, contact your primary care physician or visit these resources to learn more:

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