AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The CDC estimates that there are at least six million women who battle Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in the United States. Add mental health disorders to the genetic, hormonal and metabolic issues these women face and it becomes a huge economic burden.

“I’ve lived with depression, diagnosed, since I was 16 years old. And that’s well managed and treated with a mild medication, but anxiety is one that is newer as an adult. Especially after having children, I noticed it got more severe,” said PCOS patient and advocate Shelby Goodrich Eckard.

It didn’t take Goodrich Eckard long to realize her mental health issues, including an eating disorder, were directly related to her PCOS. It has taken time and thousands of dollars a month to treat them.

“For therapy, for my anxiety and depression, I get six visits a year. So, I’m going three times a week and each visit is $75. You can do the math. I use my six visits up in the first week of January, you know second week of January. And the medications, a lot of them aren’t covered,” said the wife and mother of two.

Patients, such as Shelby who doubles as an advocate for herself and others, serve as a living testament to a recent study of the direct economic burden of mental health disorders associated with PCOS.

“We know mental health is associated with PCOS. The majority of PCOS patients do have mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and others,” said Sasha Ottey, Founder and Executive Director of PCOS Challenge: The National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association.

She joined long time researcher Dr. Ricardo Azziz for the study. It put these mental health disorders under the microscope using medical publications, such as Medline, that examined women with PCOS and those without it. The study showed just what they believed: women with PCOS have a higher risk of depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

“The cost of mental health disorders in PCOS exceeds $4 billion yearly in the United States alone. And, of course, PCOS is a global disease,” Dr. Azziz shared with NewsChannel 6.

“Now we’ve got this economic burden, more than $4 billion, what does that mean for you all? What’s the impact here?” We asked.

“As the only patient organization that’s doing legislative advocacy, advocating on behalf of the millions of PCOS patients in the U.S., this strengthens our advocacy because over 60% of PCOS patients have depression, anxiety. Going to our legislators and showing them the results of these studies, showing the impact of PCOS is really important for us appealing for improved care for PCOS patients and for PCOS to be treated as a public health priority.”

“The money aspect of it is sometimes what drives change,” Goodrich Eckard said while hoping the study has an impact on government’s next move.

We asked Ottey about prevention, which Dr. Azziz noted the study could lend itself to arming doctors and patients with what the real problem is, now backed by research.

“I’ll tell you what’s the barrier to prevention, right. PCOS is underdiagnosed. Really, 50 to 70 percent of patients are undiagnosed. So, they have no idea that they have PCOS,” Ottey said.

PCOS Challenge has a busy road ahead in the name of advocacy and ensuring PCOS becomes a public health priority.

September kicks off PCOS Awareness Month and on the first it’s World PCOS Day. The organization will turn more than 100 iconic landmarks around the globe to the color teal that day and throughout the month.

Then the virtual PCOS Symposium takes place on Saturday, September 9th and Saturday, September 16. You can learn more about that here.

In November, a Patient – Focused Drug Development meeting with several parties including the FDA. That meeting will be based on the following:

“The goal of this meeting is to provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), product developers, clinicians, and academic researchers an opportunity to hear perspectives from individuals with PCOS on the health effects and daily impacts of their PCOS, treatment goals, and decision factors considered when seeking out or selecting a treatment. This meeting is being conducted as a parallel effort to FDA’s PFDD initiative to more systematically gather patients’ perspectives on their conditions and available therapies to treat their conditions.”

The study was supported, in part, by PCOS Challenge: The National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association and by the Foundation for Research and Education Excellence.

Anyone wanting to take part in the PCOS Economic Burden Study should click here.