Period stigma is turning menstruation into a public health issue

A report from Plan International UK is calling for action on breaking barriers around periods

Period shame is stopping people from seeking help about their health concerns, according to a new report from Plan International UK.

The first-of-its kind study looks at the stigma faced by people who menstruate in the UK and calls for action on period poverty and better period education in schools.  

The charity found that 79 per cent of those with periods have been concerned by symptoms linked to it, such as heavy bleeding, severe pain and irregularity. But of the 1,004 14- to 21-year-olds asked, more than a quarter (27 per cent) said they were too embarrassed to speak to a health professional about their concerns while menstruating. More than half (54 per cent) said they hadn’t sought medical advice because they thought their symptoms were typical.  A total of 13 per cent were told they were exaggerating.

A culture of stigma and silence around periods was also revealed in the survey, which the girls’ rights charity claims is turning menstruation into a hidden public health issue that puts physical, sexual and mental health at risk.

The report also investigated period poverty and education around periods, discovering that two fifths of those surveyed have also had to use other methods of dealing with their period because they could not afford proper sanitary products.

Tanya Barron, chief executive of Plan International UK, said, “It’s worrying that girls and young women are experiencing symptoms linked to their periods that they’re concerned about but aren’t seeking a medical opinion.

“The stigma and taboo around periods is creating a wall of silence, with girls struggling to understand their own bodies, and feeling too ashamed to speak out when they think there’s a problem.

“Better education for both boys and girls is needed to bust taboos and make sure girls know when the symptoms they have are healthy and normal or when they need to seek medical advice.”

The NHS advises on its website that those menstruating should see a doctor if they are worried about heavy bleeding, have severe period pain or sudden period changes.

The report also calls for improved education around periods with an emphasis on identifying healthy or unhealthy symptoms.