In a recent high profile case, a Canadian woman was convicted of assault and ignoring flight attendant instructions in an air rage case that lit the media and blogosphere on fire because of the connection of the incident to menopause.
Colleen Walsh, who was convicted of slapping another passenger and ignoring flight attendant instructions, blamed her behavior on “menopause exhaustion” caused by a combination of her hormone replacement medication, wine, a sleeping pill, and the lack of sleep. Media and blog commentaries criticized Walsh for fabricating excuses, and accused her of casting a bad light on women in general, and women of menopause age, in particular.
While menopause is not an excuse for Walsh’s “air rage,” it actually could be the cause of her erratic and irresponsible behavior, according to Mia Lundin, a hormone and brain chemistry expert in Santa Barbara, CA. In her book, “Female Brain Gone Insane,” Lundin explains the connection between menopause and brain chemistry imbalances that can cause women to experience what looks and feels like insanity.
“The typical patients that I see cannot sleep, they feel wired and tired, they can’t stand the way they’re acting, and they feel like they’re going insane,” Lundin says. “There are millions of women who are suffering from this imbalance.”
The incident with Colleen Walsh actually seems to be an example of biochemistry gone amok, which is a condition that is more common in women than most people realize, according to Lundin. Perimenopausal and menopausal women who are depleted of estrogen are also depleted of the chemical serotonin, which is an inhibitor of anger and aggression. Without enough serotonin, women find themselves lashing out, seemingly without control, because they don’t have enough of the chemical that gives them the control over their anger in their system.
According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, low serotonin can cause a condition called “intermittent explosive disorder,” which is linked to road rage, rage outbursts and even spousal abuse. While most people believe this type of behavior is the result of bad choices or a bad attitude, this study concluded that uncontrolled rage is actually a result of bad brain chemistry for an estimated 16 million Americans.
Low serotonin in perimenopausal and menopausal women is a current epidemic, according to Lundin, but the condition can wreak havoc for post partum and premenstrual women as well. “Serotonin imbalance is one of the most common contributors to female mood problems in the U.S.,” Lundin says.
People who have no personal experience feeling completely out of control due to brain chemistry imbalances tend to discount these symptoms as exaggerated or invalid, according to Lundin. “Too many women are told ‘Your emotional suffering is all in your head,’” Lundin says in her book. But having experienced her own bout with brain chemistry induced “insanity,” Lundin knows firsthand that it is all too real.
Lundin writes about her own hormonal trauma in “Female Brain Gone Insane.” Two decades ago after the birth of her second child, she suddenly felt like she was drowning in anxiety, fear, and panic. “I felt like I was spinning out of control. I had no idea where this was coming from, and I was convinced I was going insane,” Lundin writes.
It was the research she did to cure her own “insanity” that led Lundin to discover the vital connection between hormone balance and brain chemistry in women. After the successful treatment of her own condition she became motivated to start her specialized female health practice. It is her twenty years of experience in that practice treating hormone and brain chemistry imbalances that leads Lundin to believe Colleen Walsh’s claim that her behavior had a hormonal connection.
Only medical tests could have determined if, in fact, Walsh was suffering from low serotonin at the time of the air rage incident. But interestingly enough, low serotonin has been proven to cause both insomnia and cravings for alcohol. From an outside perspective, Lundin sees that the pieces of the brain chemistry imbalance puzzle seem to fit together for Walsh.
Rather than hold Walsh in disdain, Lundin hopes that women will see this incident as a cautionary tale. “Millions of women who feel out of control are really just out of balance,” Lundin says. “These women feel like they are ‘losing it’ and that is real.” Ignoring imbalances has serious consequences, according to Lundin, and the Colleen Walsh air rage incident is just one demonstration of how serious those consequences can be.