Girls 'too embarrassed' to see their GP about period-related symptoms, survey reveals
The shame and silence around periods is stopping girls from seeking medical advice for menstrual symptoms they are concerned about, a new survey by girls’ rights charity Plan International UK has revealed.
The survey by the charity has found that 79 per cent of girls and young women have experienced symptoms linked to their period that concerned them but they haven’t seen a doctor or health professional. Out of the 1,004 girls aged 14-21 years old who have started their period, the following had symptoms but didn’t see a doctor:
- 29 per cent said they have had heavy bleeding
- 38 per cent have experienced severe period pain
- 25 per cent have had periods that are heavier than usual
- 32 per cent have had irregular periods
- 23 per cent have been concerned about missing periods
- 19 per cent said they have felt depressed
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, however the survey shows girls and young women experiencing these symptoms aren’t seeking help when concerns arise.
Alarmingly, more than a quarter of girls and young women (27 per cent) said they hadn’t seen a doctor or health professional about their concerns because they had felt too embarrassed, with nearly one in 10 (8 per cent) saying there was only a male doctor available and they didn’t feel comfortable talking to them.
More than half of girls (54 per cent) said the reason they hadn’t sought medical advice was because they thought their symptoms were normal at the time, and 13 per cent said people had told them they were exaggerating.
Alice, who’s 22 and from Manchester, was diagnosed with the gynaecological condition endometriosis in 2010, she said: “When my periods started I was rushed to A&E twice a month and had to be given morphine. Two years later and I was still being told what I was experiencing was normal, or worse that I was making it up to gain attention. I was made to feel like I couldn’t talk about what I was experiencing, and self-doubt crept in.
“For more than five years, my periods ruined my life. I missed school regularly and suffered debilitating pain. Appointment after appointment, I was told this was completely normal. In 2010 I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis.
“I don’t want this to be anyone else’s story. It’s time for us to arm every girl and boy with the right language to address the menstrual cycle as a fundamental and healthy thing to discuss as part of our wellbeing as women and as a society.”
The survey comes as Plan International UK launches a first-of-its-kind report which looks at the stigma and taboo menstruating girls face in the UK, along with what education they receive and problems they have affording sanitary products.
In the report, the charity calls for improved teaching materials to emphasise the fact that everyone’s period and experience of menstruation is unique, helping to identify healthy and unhealthy symptoms, and include the emotional, social and practical aspects as well.”
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.”
To read the report ‘Break the Barriers: Girls’ experiences of menstruation in the UK’ click here.