The Unspoken Reality of Mental Health and Menstruation.
Ah, the dreaded period.
A natural cycle of human nature, but nonetheless a challenge to deal with - for some more than others. But on top of all the cramps, the bloating, the breakouts, the nausea, the insomnia (the list goes on), there’s another factor that, when mentioned, always seems to get swept to the sidelines: PMS.
Of course, it’s not shocking to realise that all the physical attributes of menstruation also has a mental impact on a person. But I can’t help but notice that, in a world that’s finally pushing the importance of mental health, it’s an area that gets overlooked, and sadly undermined.
It’s very easy to blame struggling mental health on a period and to just leave it at that. But does anyone stop to realise that the struggle deserves to be taken seriously?
“Are You On Your Period?”
Raise of hands: who hasn’t heard this phrase before? Regardless of whether you menstruate or not, I bet that you have. The infamous saying has become a renowned punchline that likes to knock hormone imbalances and mood swings on the head, getting away with a few cheap laughs and a snickered comment of ‘oh, it’s just her period’.
There are many ways I could approach this blatantly misogynistic and rather invalidating comment, but no matter what perspective I use, I always just end up finding it quite sad.
Periods are already treated as such a taboo subject, but it’s also got to the point where it’s so standardised and ‘a part of the gig’ that the symptoms are just written off as unimportant, and even looked down upon.
It’s hard enough of a cycle to deal with, but to also endure the humiliation and condensation projected at us? It feels equivalent to a punch in the gut and then being told to smile. No wonder that the mental impact comes crashing down like a ton of bricks.
"There is so much cultural baggage around women's menstrual cycles, and entire industries built around the idea that women are moody, irrational—even unstable—in the phase leading up to menstruation… The tendency to surround women's reproductive functions with myths and misinformation has a long history dating as far back as Hippocrates”
PMS – The Matter behind the Myth
So, what is PMS? Pre-menstrual syndrome, or in more severe cases, Pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is more of an umbrella term that covers the majority of symptoms the week or two before menstruation starts – but mainly, the term is used to reference the mental symptoms. These can include anxiety, depression, irritability or anger, fatigue, etc. There’s a lot of debate around whether PMS/PMDD exists, with sources claiming that the term is widely recognised as a “medical reality”, or that there’s no correlation at all between mental health and menstruation. But with over 90% of women claiming they experience symptoms of PMS, it begs the question of why is this issue still being disregarded?
Truthfully, I myself would fall into the rabbit hole of ignoring my symptoms and writing them off due to my periods. If everyone else did, then why wouldn’t I? The invalidation was easy enough to exercise. But as the months continued, I noticed my symptoms growing worse – I would sink into a pit of depression every two weeks, consistently, before my period. I noticed how difficult it was to motivate myself. How hard it was to get out of bed every morning. A lack of appetite. I noticed how unhappy I was, and yet I still stubbornly believed that I should just grin and bear it.
It took a cycle of this every single month for years for me to finally stop and wonder: hang on, I’m really struggling with this, why am I just ignoring it?
No, It’s Not Just Another ‘Mood Swing’
The sad reality is that this whole topic is one that gets repeatedly marginalised, and none more publicly than in professional medical fields. Women’s health and reproductive systems have been poorly mistreated in the past, a trend that seems to have continued into modern day - and that’s just referring to physical concerns. To bring the mental aspect into the conversation invites a whole new level of deception.
I think we can all agree the symptoms of PMS/PMDD are difficult enough to deal with and should be treated seriously, but to be perfectly frank, there is this unfortunate belief that PMS creates these emotions magically from thin air; that it’s all make-believe.
The proper approach is to recognise that these emotions that surface during PMS already exist within ourselves; they are already real. We’ve just become so accustomed to the smokescreen of a period that these feelings get neglected. We abandon our own mental health to avoid the hurtful stereotypes and unpleasant medical encounters, but for the long run, it’s a conversation that needs to be had and needs to be had loudly. It’s about time the world should start listening and recognising the difficulty of this issue, and the profound effect it has on those who must deal with it.
So, maybe lend an open ear and a shoulder to lean on the next time you hear someone say “Don’t worry, I’m just on my period…”