In May of last year the BBC dedicated a week to menopause awareness. In response, journalist Julie Burchill wrote an article titled: ‘Could the BBC please shut up about the menopause’ in which she used the sentence: ‘A problem shared is a problem doubled’ whilst she bemoaned the BBC banging on about this ‘uninteresting condition’.
Instead of getting side-tracked by the irony of a journalist claiming that sharing information is unhelpful, let’s look at why menopause awareness IS important.
- More women are in paid work than ever before and more women are working (and living) for longer, which means there are more menopausal women in the workplace as discussed on BBC Radio 4:
- Knowledge is power, and wisdom comes from using that knowledge to increase understanding and support around the menopause, and consequently retain staff and reduce absenteeism
- Whilst the menopause does not affect every ‘body’, it is EVERYBODY’s issue – either you or someone you live or work with will experience the menopause, and they might need your help
Did You Know?
WHEN does the menopause happen?:
The average age for a woman to be menopausal is 51. It is important to note this is an average. Menopause can happen later AND earlier. When menopause occurs before the age of 40 it is called Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) and there can be differing reasons for this:
The definition of menopausal is when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 months. Perimenopause refers to the years leading up to menopause when a woman still has periods but experiences menopausal symptoms.
During perimenopause periods can be all over the show, heavy one month, light the next; they may even take a couple of months off and then return. Each month is like vaginal Russian Roulette, which is nowhere near as fun as it sounds.
WHAT happens during the menopause?
If you stopped a person in the street and asked them what menopausal symptoms they knew about, if they didn’t have a hot flush themselves in response to your impertinence, they would most likely tell you ‘hot flushes’, and they would be right. However, there are a myriad of physical AND mental symptoms that can occur with perimenopause and menopause such as:
- Hair thinning
- Itchy skin
- Brittle nails
- Breast tenderness
- Vaginal dryness
- Back pain
- Low mood
In the 1800s Dr Frances Skae delightfully called the menopause ‘Climacteric Insanity’ (I’m sure I saw them play at Glastonbury one year): Edinburgh Medical Journal, February 1865
The psychological symptoms of menopause such as low mood and anxiety can be some of the most challenging and it is important that we know there are reasons for this. Decreasing levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone affect how we feel and this can often be heightened when combined with other symptoms, for example a lack of sleep caused by night sweats.
What Can You DO about the menopause?
I’m sorry Julie, but one of the best ways we can help initially IS by talking about it, by having conversations at home, at school, and in the workplace; and normalising this so that women are empowered to know they are not alone, and that there are solutions.
I’m surprised more menopausal women don’t run away to join the circus - they would make great jugglers. Many women are carrying out full time paid work alongside caring for children and/or elderly relatives AND experiencing a challenging menopause AND trying to maintain a relationship with a sometimes-bewildered partner. What can we do to support these amazing women with their vast life and work experience, and what can we learn from them?
ASK how they would like to be supported around the menopause. TALK about it. Some organisations are implementing menopause guidelines or procedures, which is to be celebrated, but we must still take personal responsibility in helping others and ourselves.
Not every menopause is the same. According to the woman’s symptoms, medical history and personal values, those solutions can vary. Encourage women to speak to a GP – one who is knowledgeable on the menopause, and don’t be fobbed off easily; research herbal remedies, for example many women have found sage to be useful in reducing hot sweats; and KEEP TALKING.
Really helpful conversations have happened during and after the Laughology menopause awareness workshops where people (women and men) have opened up about their experiences and shared what has helped (and what hasn’t) from HRT, to special lightweight absorbent towels off E-bay, to using code words between an employee and a line manager when one woman was experiencing regular ‘flooding’ (heavy periods, not inclement weather).
Humour has most definitely lubricated these conversations, just like alcohol does but without the embarrassing overshare or hangover. Time after time delegates have thanked us for the way our sessions are delivered with good humour. Positive humour can be embraced to open up conversations around the menopause, whilst being mindful of creating the right environment. Chats across a desk can feel intense and a short walk or a brew in a local café can have a much more informal tone where people are inclined to feel more relaxed. ‘Big Chats and Little Chats’ are important and Laughology have developed a fluid coaching model to embed this into workplace culture so that employee needs are met in a more personalised way:
Menopause is the next phase in a woman’s life, not the beginning of the end. Let’s look on the bright side:
- Up to 25% of women sail through the menopause (perhaps Julie was one of these women).
- Periods stop! No more period pain or buying sanitary products. Try putting aside what you would usually have spent on sanitary products every month and spend it on a treat for yourself.
- The menopause provides an opportunity to get off the hamster wheel and address your lifestyle including diet and exercise, and work-life balance so that you can live your best life.
So next time you hear the word ‘menopause’, pause for thought and think about what you know, what could you know; and can you have a chat about it?