Lecture – Why Talking About Menstrual Pain Is Essential to Psychiatric Care

Available with English captions.

Presented by Laura Payne, PhD, McLean Hospital – McLean Forum lecture

Laura Payne, PhD, calls on mental health professionals to “get comfortable with the topic and consider that the menstrual cycle and menstrual pain are important things in both research and clinical work.”

Payne says that by incorporating menstrual health into psychiatric practice, “we can continue to address the stigma of menstruation, reduce health disparities for women, particularly around menstruation, and better serve women’s physical and mental health needs.”

In this lecture, Payne provides:

  • A detailed look at the female reproductive anatomy and a discussion of the mental health symptoms related to the menstrual cycle
  • An examination of why discussions of menstrual pain should be part of mental health evaluations
  • Advice for providers on identifying and treating menstrual cycle-related psychiatric conditions

“Menstrual pain is a very real and serious problem for a huge portion of our population,” Payne asserts. “If you haven’t experienced it, it’s very likely that a friend or family member of yours has.”

Although the issue is common and recurrent, Payne states that first-line treatment approaches for most reproductive-age women are often ineffective.

That’s unfortunate because menstrual pain may also be a risk factor for future pain problems and mental illnesses. Payne cites research showing that phases of the menstrual cycle are associated with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, anger, substance craving and use, and suicidal ideation and attempts.

When these symptoms are properly identified, interventions such as cognitive behavior therapy or mindfulness practice may be used to reduce catastrophic thinking about pain. These interventions also provide women with a set of coping tools.

Overall, the presentation presents strong evidence of the need to make discussions of menstrual pain an essential part of mental health evaluations. Only by “taming the taboo,” Payne says, can mental health providers help their female patients identify a significant source of distress and increase their quality of life.