Although World Menopause Day is held every year on 18th October, the whole of the month of October is given over to raising awareness of the menopause and how it affects people.
The theme of this year’s Menopause Awareness Month is ‘Cognition and Mood’, two things that those experiencing the menopause or perimenopause may be acutely aware are subject to change. To try to find out more about the sorts of things women need to expect, Sales Support Manager, Michelle Hardy spoke to Lynda Bailey of Talking Menopause, a company that partners with organisations to create a culture of openness and understanding regarding the menopause.
MH: Why do you think this year’s theme, Cognition and Mood, is so relevant Lynda?
LB: These are two of the aspect of menopause that we hear about a lot and that have a huge effect upon women experiencing symptoms of menopause. With cognition women often report ‘brain fog’. They may have difficulty remembering things. It could just be that they struggle to find the right word, or they may find they’re less able to concentrate which can have a bearing on how well they’re able to do their job. This can have a real detrimental effect on people psychologically as it can affect their confidence in their ability to cope with the world of work.
Mood features widely in the menopause. Low mood is quite often reported as a symptom of menopause. People can become quite tearful and may feel symptoms of depression or even have suicidal thoughts. They can also report feeling very angry to the point of rage on occasion.
So, although hot flushes are what a lot of people associate with the menopause, they don’t usually stop people from working. There’s a lot more to it than that. These changes in cognition and mood can have really debilitating effects on some women.
MH: What advice would you give women either experiencing or approaching the menopause or the perimenopause?
LB: I would say ‘educate, educate, educate’.
Start to notice if you experience any changes. That way you can be prepared. People don’t always recognise when they’re going through the perimenopause as they’re probably still having periods. However, things we may put down to a busy lifestyle such as tiredness and low mood, may actually be due to changes in hormones.
The most important thing to practise though, is self-care. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Pay attention to your lifestyle – are you eating healthily? Are you getting some exercise and time outdoors? Do you practise sleep hygiene?
Menopause, it is a unique experience for everyone. So, while it’s good to find out other people’s experiences, they won’t all be the same.
MH: In the past, menopause was a bit of a taboo subject. Do you think we’re making progress in normalising it?
LB: For a long time, people have felt unable to be open about the menopause. They have reported feeling embarrassed about talking about it. Things are changing though.
Certain high-profile women have raised the subject publicly, so it is something that more people feel prepared to talk about. And so it should be. It’s something that could potentially affect over 50% of the population and their symptoms could be bad enough to cause them to give up working. A recent survey by The Fawcett Society ‘Menopause and the Workplace’ reported that one in ten who have worked during the menopause have left a job due to their symptoms. That is a shockingly high figure. These are the sort of things we try to make organisations aware of with our work at Talking Menopause. People need to realise it’s more than just hot flushes and it affects more people than you might at first think. There are approximately 13 million perimenopausal or post-menopausal women in the UK, which is a large chunk of the population it can also affect both trans and non-binary people too.
It’s also an equality issue. Although it isn’t a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, Menopause has been cited in more than 20 employment tribunals so far in 2022. And it’s not just an issue at work as there is also huge inequality in healthcare for women. There is still a postcode lottery in relation to prescribing HRT which is something that can help relieve some of the debilitating symptoms of menopause. If you live in the wrong area, then you just may not be able to get it.
However, there is some progress being made around educating GPs about the menopause as in the academic year 2023, trainee GPs will receive mandatory training on it. That is progress as according to the results of a Freedom of Information request submitted in 2021 by Menopause Support, 41% of UK universities [medical schools] did not have mandatory menopause education on the curriculum. So, at least they will qualify as GPs with some formal training in menopause now.
MH: Where should women go for advice on the Menopause?
LB: Keep a symptom checker, educate yourself, be your own advocate. Talk to your friends and if you decide that you need further support with Hormone Replacement Therapy for example make an appointment to talk to your GP. Don’t give up if you don’t get help first time round. Be persistent!
In addition, there are quite a number of websites devoted to helping women with the menopause such as:
The British Menopause Society’s patient arm Women’s Health Concern
And the NHS website.
The important thing is not to suffer in silence. If you need help with your symptoms, ask your GP. If you need help with your working conditions, such as different clothing, a fan or flexibility with your working hours, speak to your employer. Even if you’re the first person to have ever asked for help with coping with the menopause, do it, as just because something hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
MH: Thank you, Lynda
Lynda Bailey is co-founder and co-director of Talking Menopause. She is a former West Midlands Police Inspector and leader of an award-winning menopause programme within the police force. She is keen to provide a high level of service in educating others around the impact of menopause in the workplace through the work of Talking Menopause. She is also a qualified MHFA England Mental Health First Aider.