Being on your period while in a mental health hospital can be a challenging experience, according to individuals like Lara, a 24-year-old woman in the UK. Lara has faced difficulties accessing adequate period products, dealing with a lack of sanitary bins, and feeling watched while changing a tampon. When Lara shared her story online, people from across the country shared similar experiences. Mental health hospitals have various rules in place for safety, which can include limited access to certain items and restrictions on patients leaving the wards. However, NHS guidance states that period products should be available to anyone who needs them.
For Lara, her experiences have not always aligned with the NHS guidance. During one of her hospital admissions, her period products were confiscated, and when she needed to change her tampon every two hours due to heavy bleeding, staff refused to provide her with another one. This left her feeling humiliated. Currently, Lara is under one-to-one observations for her own safety, which means she must be escorted to the toilet and have someone watch her change her pad or tampon. However, her worst experience was when she had to wear anti-ligature clothing, which required her to remove her pants and sanitary pad, leading her to bleed into the clothing. This experience was unhygienic and embarrassing for her.
Eleanor, a 20-year-old who recently spent time in a mental health hospital, also experienced limited access to period products and had to wear special clothing, similar to Lara’s experience. She had to wear adult nappies during her period and felt dehumanized when multiple people watched her change. These experiences left her feeling lonely, ashamed, and embarrassed. Hat, a 25-year-old who has spent time in different psychiatric wards, also faced challenges. On one ward, pads were locked away, and Hat was unable to ask for them due to their mental health condition, resulting in using toilet paper instead. Managing periods becomes even more difficult when someone is mentally unwell.
Hat has started their own research into other patients’ experiences of periods on psychiatric wards, with the support of the National Survivor User Network. Through interviews with patients and staff across the country, Hat has found that adequate period provision is often overlooked. They believe that restrictions should be assessed on an individual basis and that people’s period needs are often forgotten about. Hat hopes to produce guidance for hospitals and staff based on positive experiences and best practices to ensure that people have access to the period products they need.
While Newsbeat reached out to various unions, organizations, and charities for comment, none provided a response. However, a mental health professional named Kasper agreed to discuss the issue. Kasper acknowledged that safety is a top priority but believes that adequate period provision is often overlooked in practice. They mentioned that the availability of products can vary depending on the staff on shift, and patients often have to take the initiative to access them, which can be challenging when they are unwell. Kasper believes that access to period products should be viewed as a basic human right for those in hospital.
In 2019, NHS England announced that period products would be available to all patients who need them. Similar announcements were made by the NHS in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. However, Lara, Eleanor, and Hat have raised concerns about the availability of products and the use of anti-ligature clothing, but NHS England did not provide a response to these specific complaints. Lara believes that two areas need improvement: access to suitable products for patients and education for staff. She has had some success in her own hospital with the installation of a cardboard sanitary bin after months of campaigning. Lara hopes that this progress will encourage other hospitals to prioritize proper sanitation on psychiatric wards.