ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) recipient, Dr Bronwyn Graham, an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at The University of New South Wales, has investigated the role of sex hormones in anxiety disorders, with implications for how diagnostic and treatment decisions are made for women.

Although anxiety disorders are known to be up to two-fold higher in women compared to men, the cause for this difference is uncertain. Separating environmental and societal causes from neurobiological causes has been a focus of Dr Graham’s research. Unlike males, postpubertal females experience dynamic fluctuations in sex hormones on a monthly basis and across their lifespan due to hormonal contraceptive use, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. A number of studies led by Dr Graham, including one that tested the responsiveness of subjects to treatment for spider phobia, have suggested that these hormonal fluctuations can be linked to the pathogenesis of anxiety.

Dr Graham’s research has led to a number of recommendations for clinicians to consider when assessing anxiety symptoms, including sex and hormonal events as biological variables, as well as more generally increasing women’s awareness of the link between hormones and anxiety.

Dr Graham’s studies have found that the dynamic fluctuations of sex hormones in women, which are of higher magnitude than those in men, can be linked to mental activities such as catastrophic thoughts, which maintain and compound the symptoms of anxiety.

Image: Girl looking through the window.