In the United States and locally, health care providers note that many young women lack knowledge about puberty and how to manage their menstrual cycle, and those in low-income households may struggle to purchase feminine hygiene products each month. These factors can lead young women to feel shame, fear and anxiety about their periods, directly affecting their mental health and ability to thrive at school and other social environments.
“It’s challenging to talk about periods with young patients who don’t fully understand what’s happening with their bodies and are uncomfortable discussing menstruation. We know that many girls are unprepared for this emotionally and many are also left unprepared practically, having limited access to basic feminine hygiene products. There are some who lack social support at home to navigate this natural change in their lives,” said Sherri Dicicco, Mercy Health – Paducah OB/GYN nurse practitioner.
Thanks to Mission Outreach Program funds provided by Mercy Health Foundation – Lourdes, Lourdes Hospital is combatting period stigma through a program that provides both feminine hygiene products to young women and menstrual education to female students and their teachers and coaches.
“Partnering with Community Health and our OB/GYN team to provide education and awareness around menstruation aligns with our mission to build healthier communities,” said Jessica Toren, Foundation president. “The Mercy Health Foundation – Lourdes is proud to fund these kits to support young women in our community.”
The grant funded the creation of 1,000 period starter kits, which hold about three months' worth of feminine hygiene products, including pads, pantyliners, tampons and many other toiletry items. The kits are available through Mercy Health – Paducah OB/GYN and Mercy Health – Midtown Pediatrics practices, as the providers encounter young women who need the products during their office visits. However, because that patient may not have another appointment for year or more, Mercy Health has partnered with the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers and McKinney-Vento Coordinators at Paducah Public Schools and McCracken County Public Schools for ongoing support. The school officials will also receive the kits for their students, as well as educational books on feminine health and materials from local resources if their students need any additional support.
The goal is to expand the program into school systems in neighboring counties in the future.
“No child should have to struggle with anxiety or shame over something that is normal and natural,” said Leigh Ann Ballegeer, director of community health. “We are thankful that our OB/GYN team noticed this issue in their clinic and brought it to our attention. As a result, we were able to create this program which will help our local young women thrive in school and beyond.”
In addition to providing the period starter kits, Mercy Health’s OB/GYN team plans to host open and informational discussions about how to manage conversations about menstruation and other women’s health topics with students and teachers. These events will focus on combatting the stigma surrounding menstrual health, promoting female empowerment and encouraging positive mental health.
“The onset of puberty is a pivotal moment, both in terms of human growth and development and future physical and mental health. Our aim is to promote broader self-esteem and self-confidence as our young women transition into adolescence and also ensure that girls don’t miss school due to a lack of feminine hygiene products,” said Meghan Lee, Mercy Health – Paducah OB/GYN nurse practitioner.
Each kit contains:
- One small toiletry bag (to take items to the bathroom)
- One pack of 22 panty liners
- Two packs of 12 maxipads each
- 10 tampons
- Two lip balms
- Two hand sanitizers
- 10 castile soap towelettes
- Two travel size pack of tissues
- Three pairs of disposable underwear
- Two small deodorants
- Flyer about the kit and Mercy Health’s OB/GYN team
- United Way Community Resource Guide
For questions or more information about the program, contact Leigh Ann Ballegeer, director of community health, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 270-444-2969. To help financially support this program, please reach out to Mercy Health Foundation – Lourdes at 270-444-2387.