Suffering in Silence

Women feel uncomfortable and embarrassed to discuss women's health issues - especially at work

A new survey has found there is a culture of silence among women with regards to women’s health issues. Commissioned by the UK’s leading health and dental plan provider, Simplyhealth, to mark Women’s Health Month, it revealed that women are too uncomfortable to discuss specific women’s health issues with their employer (35%), family (15%) and even friends (11%)*.

Simplyhealth launched its One Million Comfortable Conversations campaign to raise awareness about women’s health and enable more women to have conversations in all aspects of their lives (home, work, doctors), to get the support they need and live in better health day to day or seek treatment when it’s needed.

Earlier in the year, Simplyhealth identified that women’s health issues clearly lag behind other wellbeing concerns in the workplace. Simplyhealth and CIPD’s latest Health and Wellbeing at Work Report** identifies over two thirds (69%) of organisations provide little or no menopause provision, 88% of organisations provide little or no menstrual health provision and 81% provide little or no fertility treatment provision, nearly three quarters (74%) provide little or no pregnancy loss provision.

Simplyhealth commissioned a second survey of 2,000 respondents from across the UK to identify further barriers women may be facing with regards to discussing women’s health issues.

In the workplace women reported feeling uncomfortable (40%) or embarrassed (36%) to talk about their health with their employer or manager, almost half (47%) of those surveyed didn’t think their bosses would understand health issues specifically affecting women, with 43% worried they’ll be viewed as weak and 47% don’t think their issue will be recognised as an illness.

While over half (54%) say they’ve no problem discussing general health conditions, such as flu, backpain and Covid-19, but 43% say they have ‘suffered in silence’ at work while being worried about a female-specific illness or condition. Menstrual cramps (33%) and Menopause (18%) are among the issues women have kept to themselves, while 13% said they had suffered with miscarriage but didn’t tell their employer there was anything wrong.

Women going through menopause admit to hiding symptoms such as loss of concentration (40%), crumbling anxiety (39%) and debilitating hot flushes (35%) at work. The survey revealed that 3 in 10 adults have lied to an employer about why they've needed time off work when suffering from a women’s health issue. With only 1 in 10 female workers feeling comfortable enough to approach their manager for time off work for menopause symptoms, versus 40% asking for permission to visit a dentist or 27% for an Optician appointment.

Feeling uncomfortable isn’t limited to the workplace. Women are also struggling to open up to their friends and family as well, with half of respondents stating they would feel uncomfortable discussing post-natal health issues including prolapse (25%) and post-natal incontinence (25%) with friends and family.

Sadly, almost one fifth (19%) of those surveyed also felt uncomfortable discussing miscarriage with their friends and family, while over a quarter (26%) would keep quiet at work for fear of it impacting their career opportunities or potential pay increases, despite 10-20% of known pregnancies ending in miscarriage***.  

Women’s health issues are also impacting exercise for many, with 44% of women saying painful menstrual cycles stop them from playing sport or going to the gym and 39% admit that feelings of shame or embarrassment of their body puts them off exercise or playing sport publicly.

Concerningly, 46% of women are also demonstrating reluctance to have these conversations with their GP – with 45% saying they are more likely to open-up, if they had access to more bespoke health services, which are more in tune with women’s needs.

Dr Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director at Simplyhealth

No one should suffer in silence and our survey shows that too many women in the UK are doing just that. Whether that is at work, or in their personal life, women are feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed discussing perfectly normal health concerns. It’s time we broke down those barriers and banished the taboos. 

Simplyhealth have been providing access to healthcare for 150 years, following this insight, we understand that more needs to be done. That’s why Simplyhealth is encouraging one million comfortable conversations about women’s health in 2022.

Dr Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director at Simplyhealth

Simplyhealth offer a range of services for women looking for support with specific issues, including free GP advice. A full breakdown of services and advice from clinicians please visit: https://indd.adobe.com/view/ce0fdacd-32a1-404a-92fa-79e10b9584f4

Simplyhealth undertook the survey as it aims to spark one million ‘comfortable conversations’ around women’s health.


About Simplyhealth 

Since 1872, we’ve been helping people make the most of life through better everyday health. Our health plans make sure individuals, families and employees can easily access in-person and virtual wellbeing services and afford to stay healthy by claiming costs back on dental treatments, visits to the optician, complementary therapies and much more.

Today we’re the UK’s leading health solutions company, with almost 1000 colleagues serving 2.3 million customers. We don’t have shareholders, so we’re led by our purpose of improving access to healthcare, for the many, for the long term. We’re passionate about using our voice in public health affairs and partnering with charities to reduce health inequality – each year we commit to giving 10% of pre-tax profits to a range of community causes. And we ensure our business takes care of the planet too, achieving Carbon Neutral + status in 2021. 

To find out more, visit www.simplyhealth.co.uk

*Methodology Data conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Simplyhealth in May 2022, polling 2,000 female adults aged 18+ across the UK.

**About CIPD Report


*** Mayo Clinic – Miscarriage https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pregnancy-loss-miscarriage/symptoms-causes/syc-20354298