If you’ve ever been doubled over with period pain, sweared your way through days of PMS or deliberated over the best contraception for your body, you’ll be happy to hear that these issues, along with others that we experience over our entire reproductive lifetime as women, are now being taken seriously by Public Health England (PHE).
Following a survey of more than 7,300 women in England aged between 16-64, and in a detailed report that’s the very first of its kind, the PHE has revealed the impact of women’s reproductive health issues on the nation’s physical, mental and social wellbeing,
The research that combines women’s personal experiences along with existing data, has concluded that reproductive health is a “public health issue” – with an aim of developing a cross-governmental five-year plan to improve reproductive health.
The survey highlighted that 80% of women had experienced “unwanted reproductive health symptoms” in the last 12 months such as heavy menstrual bleeding, severe menopausal symptoms, postnatal symptoms, lack of sexual enjoyment or infertility.
For those who reported suffering from heavy menstrual bleeding, almost a third said that they felt it disrupted their social lives and half stated that it’s caused them to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression.
The report highlighted that embarrassment surrounding reproductive health commonly acted as a barrier to accessing knowledge or support. Among the women questioned, they said there was often a perception that symptoms were normal and should be endured and consequently they feared they might not being taken seriously or that they would be judged negatively for needing help.
Overall, the survey revealed that women would like reproductive health issues to be normalised so that they can be discussed openly and self-managed where possible.
“Women’s reproductive health concerns can fundamentally influence physical and mental well-being throughout their whole life course. Our research has highlighted that while individual reproductive health issues and concerns change throughout a woman’s life, the feelings of stigmatisation and embarrassment were almost universal. The report reveals the need for an open and supportive approach in the workplace and in the health system,” said Dr Sue Mann, Public Health Consultant in Reproductive Health at PHE.
Commenting on the report, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, added: “Even though in the modern day we don’t expect there to be social stigmas around women’s health matters, unfortunately – as this research shows – stigma does still exist and it is concerning that many women do not seek help for conditions which can often be very serious.
“This research also highlights the urgent need to encourage more public conversations around women’s health matters to assure women that they will be taken seriously, and that they should never feel ashamed to talk openly about their health concerns whether that be their periods, miscarriage, infertility, menopause or something else.”