Period poverty has a lot of obvious physical impacts associated with it. It is easy to understand how not having access to the tools that are needed to properly care for your body during menstruation could lead to people not participating in important activities like school or work or could lead to physical health problems if that lack of access compromises a menstruators’ hygiene. These are all tangible things that are easy to see and observe. It’s harder to understand just how much period poverty can also impact menstruators’ mental health.
That’s why we’ve dedicated this portion of our 4 part series on period poverty to looking at how period poverty can impact mental health. The brand Always, and Professor of Psychology and U by Kotex partner Dr. Tomi-Ann Roberts, have recently conducted research that quantifies this experience. Their research shows a very clear relationship between period poverty and a decrease in quality of life and of mental health.
When Always surveyed 1,000 women, 39% of those who had a lack of access to menstrual care necessities said they suffer from anxiety and depression. In another Always survey of 1500 women, it was “found that more than a fifth of women believe they have been held back due to the fact they couldn’t always participate in extra-curricular past-times. 22 percent believe they now lack teamwork skills because of this and three in 10 believe it affected their ability to socialize.”
Dr. Tomi-Ann Roberts’ research adds the idea that societal taboos around menstruation only intensify the mental health impacts of period poverty. As she points out: “My own research has shown that when a period product like a tampon is made visible, people have a whole lot of negative judgment...it’s no wonder period poverty only increases feelings of shame and embarrassment by making what’s usually hidden go public.”
Intimina’s gynecologist Dr. Shree Datta takes the impact of shame on mental health a step further by pointing out that anxiety and stress over leaks or stains being visible in public spaces like offices and schools “an affect [menstruators’] ability to focus and contribute, leading to sickness absence at school or work.” Absences and lack of focus can have an intense impact on mental health. If you aren’t performing your best or you miss things by being absent, that simply piles on more stress about your performance, your success, your ability to succeed, and can mean added work as you try to catch up on what you missed or make up for your lapse in performance by doing better than ever on future assignments or projects, amplifying stress and anxiety even further.
On top of experiencing fear, stress, and/or shame, over performance, workload, and your period becoming public knowledge, period poverty brings health anxiety as menstruators worry about what could happen to their physical health as a consequence of not having access to the tools they need to care for their menstruating body, and financial anxiety as menstruators have to make tough choices about if or how they might be able to buy the products they need. That is a massive amount of stress, anxiety, and shame for anyone to take on, so it is no wonder that mental health can suffer severely as a result of period poverty.
All of this research and insight just affirms the importance of working to end period poverty and also working to end the shame and stigma around menstruation. No one benefits from our societies continuing the tradition of making menstruation a taboo subject and it’s high time we all got comfortable talking about this natural aspect of life.
Want to know more about period poverty and what you can do to help? Stay tuned for the last two articles in our deep dive on the topic and subscribe to The Flow to get stories delivered straight to your inbox.
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Briana is a Master’s of Human Rights student who fills her spare time with writing, reading, yoga, and family time (including, of course, lots of cuddles and playtime with her surprisingly spritely senior dog). In the past, Briana has put her skills to work volunteering with and working for Days for Girls International--an organization devoted to advancing menstrual equity. Although it has taken some time to unpack her own shame around menstruation, Briana now loves chatting about all things menstrual and reproductive health and jumps at any opportunity to get involved with organizations and businesses that empower menstruators.