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World Menopause Day

Diversity and Inclusion By Natasha Cox-Abeysinghe, Senior Executive, Marketing and Business Development – 21 October 2021

Pink back ground with scrabble letters spelling out menopause

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Natasha Cox Abeysinghe in purple top and office background

Natasha Cox-Abeysinghe

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The menopause. We’ve all heard of the word – but do we all know exactly what it means, and the impact it can have on our lives?

Every woman goes through it – without exception – and most of us will be in the workforce when we do. And yet, it’s a word that is hardly mentioned in everyday conversation – and even when it is, it’s often referred to as ‘the change’ or ‘the transition’ or is referred to in a jokey manner.

So today, on World Menopause Day, we thought we would try to bring the menopause a little more out into the open. There has been a chronic lack of attention paid to the menopause in the media, in scientific research – and in the workplace. This in turn has led to a widespread lack of awareness and multiple obstacles being place in the path of women seeking practical help and psychological support for something that can impact every aspect of their lives.

First, let’s discuss some of the terminology and a few key facts about the menopause.

It doesn’t just ‘start at 50’


First, let’s correct a common misconception: the menopause doesn’t just ‘happen’ as soon as a woman turns 50. A woman is considered to have reached menopause when she hasn’t had a period for 12 months. However, women can start experiencing a variety of physical symptoms (known as the perimenopause) from their early 40s (some as early as their 30s) – these symptoms can last for as long as 15 years.

Natasha
says: “I have been experiencing symptoms since I was 44 – six years now – and I have no idea when they will come to an end (but I am very much hoping it will be sooner rather than later!).”

It’s not just ‘hot flushes’


While certain symptoms of the perimenopause are well known - such as night sweats, hot flushes, or ‘brain fog’ - women can experience as many as 40 different symptoms, in different combinations and varying over time. There is a very good reason why the menopause used to be referred to as ‘the change’ – our bodies go through dramatic changes and we are often left feeling confused, helpless and out of control. This inevitably has an impact on our mental health, our self-confidence and our ability to do ordinary, day-to-day tasks that we used to be able to complete without a second’s thought.

Angela
says: “I went from being someone who would not take a tablet for anything and just power through – to reaching for the Nurofen and always having paracetamol to hand to ease pressure headaches and other symptoms when they occurred.”

Natasha
says: “The worst symptom I’ve experienced (which has also had the greatest impact) has been extreme fatigue. There are days when I am – quite literally – unable to keep my eyes open after a certain time of day. I struggle to stay awake on my journey home and am often in danger of walking into trees or lampposts on my way home. To say that this scared me witless would be an understatement. The worst thing was that I had had no warning this could happen to me and I struggled to find any information about it.”

Which leads us to our next point:

Lack of understanding and awareness – not just from men


A recent survey by BritainThinks and MyMenopauseCentre[1]
revealed that 47% of the general public (male and female respondents) thought the menopause was still a taboo subject, with 43% agreeing that it wasn’t well understood.

Of greater concern was the 55% of female respondents saying they had underestimated the physical symptoms and 53% the emotional symptoms of the menopause. The survey also revealed a lack of awareness among younger women as to what they will experience in later life, with over half of those aged between 18 and 44 saying they did not know much about the menopause.

Natalie
says: “Is this it???? Am I going through it? Having gone from sleeping like a baby solidly for 8 or 9 hours most my adult life to 3 or 4 hours with toilet breaks in-between for the last 2 years, something wasn’t right. Brain fog and heavy periods were also cause for concern - speaking to friends and family soon made me realise the perimenopause may have hit me. Only from talking about what was happening to me made me understand it was okay and that I wasn’t alone”

The findings also revealed that just one in four men aged 45 to 64 stated that they would know what to do to support a woman going through the menopause – these are also the men who are most likely to have a partner who is experiencing it. The survey also demonstrated a significant gap in knowledge of symptoms between men and women, with two thirds of men stating they think it does not affect them personally.

The impact of the menopause on our working lives


There are around 4.4 million women aged 50 and over in employment in the U.K and it is the fastest growing demographic[2]. Studies have shown that menopause symptoms can have a significant impact on attendance and performance in the workplace.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development estimates that three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work. Almost 900,000 women (10% of women in the workforce) have left their jobs because of the menopause[3].

Many women experience a range of symptoms including sustained periods of poor sleep, anxiety, loss of confidence, migraines and an inability to remember things clearly, referred to as “brain fog”.

Leigh
says: “I hadn’t even heard of perimenopause, until I started to research why I was getting more intense premenstrual symptoms and feelings of increased anxiety and tearfulness. At 41 it hadn’t even occurred to me that this would be something that could affect me but it has and it means there are times where I find it really hard to concentrate on work, feelings of wanting to hide away from the world and being on the verge of tears (which is not ideal when talking to a difficult client!). Working and balancing life with a young family make this difficult to navigate, leading to increased feelings of anxiety and loss of control.”

What can I do next?


Regardless of whether you’re 23 or 43, familiarise yourself with the signs and symptoms of perimenopause (see the image below) because it can happen at any time!

Read, learn and reach out for support if you need it. We have provided some links at the bottom of this article that we have personally found very useful.

Share this information with the women (and men!) in your life! Talk about it openly and let’s get everyone educated on perimenopause!

Track your symptoms, whatever they may be. A paper diary is fine or check out Dr Louise Newson’s app Balance.

Speak to your GP as soon as possible. You can also find a menopause specialist approved by the British Menopause Society here.

Listen to your body - you know when something is out of whack. Trust the warning signs and don’t give up until you’ve got to the bottom of it – this may include challenging your GP on several occasions

Don’t rely on blood tests alone - they are not recommended for detecting perimenopause because of fluctuating hormone levels. Instead, your GP should use your symptoms to diagnose perimenopause.

Investigate treatment options. While the most common treatment (once you’ve been correctly diagnosed) is HRT (hormone replacement therapy), this is not available to all women. Anti-depressants are not the correct treatment (despite many GPs prescribing them when presented with menopause symptoms). Read more on the recommended treatment options here.

Above all else, please remember that you are not alone - in fact, there are 13 million other women going through the menopause in the UK right now, and it’s time we started talking and sharing our experiences.

Useful links
Menopause Support: WORKPLACE – menopausesupport.co.uk
British Menopause Society – find your nearest menopause specialist: Find a BMS-recognised Menopause Specialist - British Menopause Society (thebms.org.uk)
How to talk to your GP about the menopause: How to talk to your GP about menopause - Henpicked

[1] What is the impact of the menopause on women? (britainthinks.com); Data reveals impact of COVID-19 on menopausal women (healtheuropa.eu)
[2] Menopause Support, WORKPLACE – menopausesupport.co.uk
[3] Majority of working women experiencing the menopause say it has a negative impact on them at work | CIPD

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