Let’s talk menopause
By Jo Bolger, senior partnerships manager at NABS and nutritional therapist
As we mark this year’s World Menopause Day (18 October), I’m thankful that there’s been more noise around the subject in recent years, with public figures such as Davina McCall and Michelle Obama discussing their experience of menopause.
Having spent 20 years working in advertising, I’m also a clinical nutritional therapist specialising in perimenopause and menopause. I’ve also just turned 50, so this topic is particularly live in my mind.
We might not refer to it “the change” any more, but we’ve still got a long way to go to normalise the conversation around menopause – a physiological transition that will affect every woman.
Societal and familial taboos and shame around talking openly about gynaecological health mean that many women are hurtling towards this life-stage with limited knowledge or information on managing this health challenge.
The perimenopause is the lead-up to menopause. It can last for up to ten years and in some women it starts as early as their mid-30s. The oft- mocked hot flushes are only one of a list of symptoms which include insomnia, heavy bleeding, heightened anxiety and depression, joint pain and loss of memory and libido.
Without the right treatment and therapies, this hormonal deficiency can in some women lead to significant long-term health issues such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and dementia. As wonderful as our NHS is, training on menopause at medical school is not mandatory. Too many women miss out on appropriate medical and emotional support from their doctors, whether that’s being prescribed HRT, counselling or even being correctly diagnosed as perimenopausal.
Coupled with later motherhood and career pressure and stresses, the outcome for many women can be seismic.
It’s no surprise therefore that 20 per cent of menopausal women leave their jobs due to overwhelming symptoms.
Luckily, HR professionals and inclusion specialists are waking up to the fact that menopause is a serious workplace issue. After all, 70% of women in the UK were currently in paid employment at the start of this year (ONS.gov.uk 2020).
Employers need to support women through the menopause. Doing so will improve work wellbeing, productivity and retention rates. Here are some suggested actions:
- Create sickness policies that take into account symptoms such as fatigue, migraines and insomnia, permitting flexible work around these in the same way that pregnancy would be managed;
- Arrange awareness sessions to give colleagues and line managers a better understanding of menopause;
- Support small yet effective changes to the working day and environment, such as desk fans and later start times; and
- Promote external resources such as books, podcasts and specialist medical care.
While there’s no magic bullet to managing menopause, a holistic strategy encompassing support from clinicians and employers is vital. While women need to take responsibility for their exercise, stress reduction and nutrition, support from others can make all the difference.
Many of the images and messaging we see around menopause are damaging and do not represent the reality of women at this age. Forget older, greying ladies in comfy knitwear. Many perimenopausal and menopausal women are youthful, dynamic multitaskers. It never ceases to amaze me that in my clinic when women in their mid-late 40’s are shocked at what’s happening to them. If we saw more positive and truthful representation of menopausal women, this wouldn’t be the case.
It’s most definitely time to have some open conversations to end the stigma and to change ‘the change’ for the better.