First off, let’s make one thing clear. We might talk in universal terms about ‘being on your period’, but every single girl experiences their period in different ways.
There will be girls who will hardly notice their period is happening, some who experience debilitating cramps, others who feel depressed and down in the weeks before, and those who will have to use two lots of period products to cope with a heavy flow.
One person’s menstrual cycle might run like clockwork, another might have theirs every three weeks or every three months. No one is the same.
What’s crucial is that those menstruating know what a ‘healthy’ period looks like and feel comfortable enough to seek advice from health professionals if something doesn’t seem right. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
A survey by Plan International UK found that 79 per cent of girls and young women in the UK aged between 14-21 years old have been concerned about menstrual symptoms but haven’t seen a medical professional.
This statistic is alarmingly high and means there are girls out there suffering in silence.
So why aren’t girls seeking help for symptoms they’re worried about? Looking further into the figures, we find that 27 per cent of girls are too embarrassed to talk to their doctor about their period, with eight per cent being put off because there was only a male GP available to the time.
Since we published the data, the Royal College of General Practitioners has announced that it is working on materials to support GPs and healthcare professionals to talk to patients about menstrual conditions. Good news. Such efforts could go a long way to helping girls feel more comfortable when talking about their symptoms.
But what really needs to be tackled is the root cause which is driving this silence and taboo around periods. Because girls are growing up not understanding their bodies and feeling like they can’t talk about something that happens every month, and that’s just not acceptable.
Alongside feeling embarrassed, 13 per cent of girls said they’d been told by others that they were exaggerating about their symptoms. And 54 per cent of girls believed their symptoms to be normal at the time.
Alice, who’s 22 and from Manchester, suffered with excruciating pain and was rushed to A&E twice a month for two years before she was diagnosed with the condition endometriosis. Throughout that time, she was told that what she was experiencing was normal, and, worse, that she was making it up to gain attention. She said, “I was made to feel like I couldn’t talk about what I was experiencing, and self-doubt crept in.”
Girls like Alice are being failed. What we need is better education to bust taboos and make sure girls can really understand their own bodies. Not much to ask, right?
To read the report ‘Break the Barriers: Girls’ experiences of menstruation in the UK’ visit plan-uk.org/ukperiods.