Going on clinical placement is challenging for both male and female nursing students. However, I am writing about female student nurses who go into clinical placements, while juggling childcare, assessments, work and family alongside other responsibilities.
You can only imagine how challenging it is to manage all this in the complex world that we live in. Now, add a mix of period pain. OK, now you get the headline, right?
Seriously, I was once a student nurse. Now, as associate dean for education and student engagement, and founder of Raising Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education, which seeks to raise awareness of mental health in higher education, I interact with a lot of students about their learning experiences.
According to some of the nursing students I speak to, period pain triggers what can be referred to as a situational mental health experience.
Students describe feelings of anxiety, depression, and helplessness in addition to the period pain. With their consent, I will share some of these experiences below:
- “I could not go in last week and it made me very anxious”
- “I am feeling depressed again as I anticipate the pain while on clinical placement”
- “I am going to an adult setting for 12 weeks, which will involve a lot of bending with pain, I am already anxious”
- “I don’t know how to tell my manager. Because he is a man and I do not know if he will understand.”
I am very aware of how situation mental health experiences can have a negative impact on students’ learning experiences and outcomes.
However, has the narrative about menopause overtaken that of period pain? These days, not much is left out about how important it is to remember the impact of menopause on women.
Yes, we must support menopause, but please let us balance the conversation. I ask: are we doing enough to recognise the impact of period pain on the mental health of female student nurses on placements?
The NHS provides additional information on period pain. However, we should consider placing a bit more attention on period pain as part of our learning and teaching, both on campus and on placement.
This would allow female student nurses to feel empowered to talk about an issue that is clearly affecting their learning outcomes, and their mental health albeit situationally.
We must think about how to support students on placements. As I say, inclusive university space, inclusive clinical placement spaces. My call for action is that period pains are disabling and should be recognised as such.
“Simply put, universities must bring the conversations about period pains to where female student nurses are”
This is especially because they impact on women’s ability to carry out their daily lives and, although they are not considered long-term disabilities, female students and other health professionals require support at work when experiencing period pains.
Therefore, those providing clinical placements could consider period pain nurses or female senior healthcare assistants/advocates.
They could use posters and create similar support groups to the ones used for raising awareness of menopause.
They could use in-house communication mediums to highlight the importance of speaking up if period pains are disabling your learning experience and you need support.
They could put up posters to inform nursing students of where and how to access help. Make period pain a support priority for positive learning outcomes.
Simply put, universities must bring the conversations about period pains to where female student nurses are, and where they can access information about support services easily.
Dr Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi is a registered mental health nurse and associate dean for education and student experience for nursing and midwifery, Institute of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University, and founder of Raising Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education