The Correlation Between Menstruation and Mental Health

A Research Brief by: Shalini Raichur

SRWomen in poverty face a burden when it comes to coping with their monthly menstrual cycle, which in turn negatively impacts their mental health. Women experiencing homelessness can be identified as a vulnerable subpopulation in poverty and have reported difficulty in managing their menstrual cycle. A menstrual cycle is a healthy and natural part to being a woman and menstrual products are needed in order for a woman to carry on in her daily life. However, these products are already expensive on their own, not to mention the fact they are taxed. For a woman struggling to make ends meet, this can turn into a stressful burden added on to other stressors women in poverty face.

Menstrual products are often referred to as "hygiene" products, implying that this biological process "needs cleaning" and this wording can cause women to internalize the social construct that periods are dirty, leading them to believe that they are dirty. This can cause a woman to view herself as undesirable, perpetuating low self esteem and affecting mental health. This internalization coupled with the stress of figuring out how to afford needed products, added on to stress that comes with living in poverty, can become chronic and intense, leading to issues of mental illness.

Women in poverty face an unproportional amount of stress and mental illness than affluent women. A study which assessed the cumulative effects of poverty and functional status on African American women found that persistent poverty and stress were significantly correlated. The study found that those who escaped early poverty, experienced few stressors and negative health outcomes. Understanding the implications that a woman's mental health has on her menstrual cycle can lead to better care practices, however, if stress associated with her menstrual cycle negatively impacts her mental health, then a cycle of mental health affecting menstruation and menstruation affecting mental health is created.

While mental illness is present in those experiencing poverty, access to services is limited due to the fact that an individual is less likely to seek out services if she cannot afford them. The Kaiser Foundation found that 1 in 10 women are uninsured; meaning their cost of care is high. A study found that Medicaid expansion significantly increased the prevalence of those receiving mental health treatment, 35.9% higher than the uninsured. This increase can be attributed to more people having health insurance and access to services being covered under the expansion; however, Medicaid expansion has only occurred in 28 states.

A proposed intervention includes Medicaid expansion in all 50 states that would ensure that every woman has access to healthcare and mental health services. Secondly, states could impose a law to eliminate the tax that is placed on female menstrual products to help alleviate financial burdens. Surveys could be given to women in poverty to assess whether Medicaid expansion and eliminating the tax on female menstrual products, increased access to mental health services and menstrual products. It is important to continue to raise awareness about the correlation between menstruation and mental illness by gathering more evidence to support the correlation, as well as reducing the stigma surrounding both issues by facilitating more conversations.