Unravelling The Educational Silence Around PMDD
Now more than ever, schools are realizing the importance of teaching girls about menstrual health. Select sex education lessons thankfully focus on the topic, and issues like period poverty are coming more and more to the fore in recent years.
By teaching girls about these problems at an early age, schools help them to understand their bodies and, perhaps most importantly, notice when something isn’t right. Understanding about wide-spread period issues can also help girls to talk and put themselves in other’s shoes. That’s always a plus point.
Sadly, as much as education in these areas has improved, there’s still a long way to go before the curriculum is as comprehensive as it should be. Most would argue that period poverty needs even more air-time, for example, and that isn’t the only thing lacking in current lesson plans.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a sometimes-crippling form of PMS that impacts around 5-8% of women. Despite those pretty high stats, this issue is almost never discussed in classroom settings, and change is long overdue.
What is PMDD?
Put simply, PMDD occurs in much the same way as PMS, but with incredibly severe symptoms that can lead to both long-term and short-term mental health problems. Symptoms typically arise during the week or two before a period when hormone levels begin to fall. Usually, symptoms should clear within two or three days of menstruation, but that isn’t always the case. Worse of all, researchers don’t strictly know what causes PMDD. Labelled under the convenient guise of ‘PMS’, research into the condition is minimal, though some experts believe it arises due to the way different women metabolize hormones. Signs that PMDD is present can include –
Lasting irritability that may affect others
Extreme mood swings (crying, etc.)
Lack of interest
Feeling out of control
Despair and thoughts of suicide
These symptoms can each vary in severity and may remain for a few days or a lot longer. While there are many crossovers with signs that we more commonly associate as PMS, out of control feelings and thoughts of suicide seem to be more-extreme PMDD-specific symptoms. For diagnosis, a woman must experience five symptoms or more, one of which is mood-related. She must also display how these symptoms impact her throughout her menstrual cycle.
What happens when PMDD goes untreated?
To understand why we should teach PMDD in schools, it’s perhaps first essential to consider what happens when the condition remains untreated. It’s astounding how many grown women are unaware of this issues, let alone young people. And, yet, unchecked PMDD can become incredibly serious.
Often leading to mental health conditions, ongoing PMDD can require medication for ongoing management. Without this help in place, some women experience extreme mental illness, and may even need time in an anxiety treatment center or similar to help them through. What’s more, unchecked PMDD conditions can lead to unnecessary mental distress that women shouldn’t be facing in silence.
The PMDD struggles don’t stop there, either. Due to a lack of care about relationships and general lifestyle, this condition can have a catastrophic impact. This, mixed with irritability directed at others, can make lasting relationships incredibly challenging to manage. In some cases, PMDD can even cause issues with employment.
Even with symptoms clearing a few days into menstruation, this condition has plenty of time to cripple the women who experience it. Even worse, failing relationships or careers as a result of undiagnosed PMDD can lead to lasting depressions and anxieties that don’t clear, and can become dangerous.
Helping young girls with PMDD
With the severity of those symptoms and consequences in mind, it’s time to consider how exactly we can help young girls with PMDD. By spreading this message at school age, girls will be in a better position to spot symptoms sooner. They'll therefore understand their bodies better and be able to seek the help they need.
There are a few different ways that educators could step up to meet their responsibility for knowledge. Efforts to increase PMDD awareness in schools could, and arguably should, involve initiatives such as –
Educating about PMDD
Including PMDD on school curriculums is perhaps the most crucial change necessary in classrooms. As it stands, no mention of PMDD occurs within sexual health lessons, and most girls, therefore, don’t realize it’s a possibility. In fact, only young girls who seek medical help early receive the diagnosis they need before adulthood. Many would argue that this lack of mention is mostly to do with more generalized handling of ‘PMS’ symptoms, but, as we’ve discussed, that’s not enough. Girls and boys alike should arguably attend at least one lesson solely dedicated to PMDD and other variants. Only then will wide-spread understanding be possible.
Teaching the teachers
It isn’t only children who need educating about issues like PMDD. Teachers should also be taught about symptoms to look out for of potential problems with female students. Welfare is a pressing teacher responsibility, after all, especially where teenagers are concerned. In general, teachers are already taught to look out for bodily changes that seem to cause distress or confusion. By also versing educators in PMDD, less young girls would have to suffer in silence.
Putting the right resources in place
Lastly, schools should be sure to put the right resources in place to deal with issues like these. Teaching about or spotting the signs won’t help anyone if schools don’t also help girls to get the support they need. An on-site doctor can be a massive help for ensuring struggling students get the attention they need when they need it. In-school counsellors should also be educated and on-hand to help with students who struggle to handle or understand PMDD symptoms.
Bringing PMDD into schools isn’t going to negate the silence surrounding this subject, but it would be a significant step in the right direction. Spreading awareness could certainly help the next generation to understand PMDD and its causes better than we do at the moment.