Well, its World Menopause Day – who knew?
Sarah Morgan Jones
Well, its World Menopause Day today. Who knew?
I admit I have yet to see the waving of the flags and at time of writing, I haven’t yet received the management-to-all-staff email reminding me to hug a menopausal colleague and not to miss her off my department quiz-and-chicken-in-a-basket night at the Frog and Sprocket invitation.
But never fear, I am going to pack myself a thermos and a hip flask and slip on my beard tickling snood later and pop down to the local council landmark and see what colour they have decided to light it up with in celebration of women like me.
Because let’s face it, women like me… we’re everywhere…either right now or about to arrive.
An almost universal stage of being a woman is to go through this right of passage, ‘The Change.’
And as we are effectively a majority of the world’s population, then I fully expect any woman to be able to step out of the door at any stage today and be welcomed by fireworks, party poppers at the very least, and a whomping array of media attention for being part of the infrastructure that holds up the sky itself.
Because let’s face, it we are amazing.
At the time when most women face the menopause, we may well have been running a household, perhaps raising kids, and most likely building a career – or certainly working our pop socks off – for several decades.
We may also be navigating the care of our older relatives and facing the crappy realities of old age and a health and social care system in crisis, while at the same time supporting young’uns at university and on top of that possibly casting half an eye at our long-term partner and thinking ‘Is this all there is?’
Even if those variables do not apply, wading through the potential symptoms of menopause are actually enough to be going on with, all on their own.
We are told there is a general lack of awareness across society about the menopause.
How can this be when it is a natural stage for nearly all of us? Why is everyone not ‘on’ this?
Very few people will have gone through life without some exposure to women of a ‘certain age’ and seen what they experience as a normal part of life.
Women over 50 are the fastest growing sector of the workforce, and research suggests that close to a million of us have stopped working due to the impact of the menopause and the difficulties some of us may experience in the workplace as a result.
According to local government employment stats almost 70% of the workforce are women between the ages of 40 and 64, and as most women experience the menopause between 45 and 55, (although some will start earlier or later) employers should pretty much have a grip on this.
Symptoms may last between four and twelve years, and this doesn’t include the peri-menopausal wilderness years when things are brewing but not yet in full swing.
Those symptoms can be cognitive, physical and psychological, and can include hot flushes, chills, heart palpitations, sleep disturbance and fatigue, dry eyes, muscular aches, headaches, night sweats, skin irritation, irritability, anxiety and/or mood disturbances, poor concentration and the need for more toilet breaks. Oh and brain fog… did I mention brain fog?
Those who don’t experience the more obvious symptoms will all still undergo physiological changes that will have an impact on their health, with increased potential for conditions such as heart disease, bone density issues and osteoporosis.
These symptoms and low oestrogen levels can have a knock-on effect on how well we recover from illness such as COVID and may affect our performance at work.
More and more, it is being suggested in tribunals that failure to make reasonable adjustments for women during this time in their lives is tantamount to discrimination.
Recent figures suggest the number of HRT prescriptions in the UK has more than doubled in the last five years, but stocks are running low, with one manufacturer of a commonly used hormone replacement gel reporting supply problems.
According to some reports, this is leading to women sharing their prescriptions, with some said to be experiencing suicidal feelings from the debilitating symptoms they suffer without the medication.
So, what is being done for us?
The common depiction of a ‘middle aged’ woman in advertising is one of a leaky, dry skinned yoga mom, who thinks she’s hit the jackpot because she has found the ultimate discreet ‘bladder-leak’ product… which even comes in an ‘alluring’ black knicker style, which we can presumably rip off with gay abandon if – lawks-a-lawdy – we get ‘lucky’ on a night out.
The government have appointed a Menopause Tsar – and there is a Cross Party Task Force which meets every two months to address the ‘issues surrounding menopause’- in response to tireless lobbying from people like Carolyn Harris MP and the no-frills no-taboo info-campaigning of Davina McCall and Penny Lancaster.
This, GPs say, has led to a massive increase in women demanding actual help from their doctors – rather than being given anti-depressants and ‘up with this you simply must just put’ palm offs – known as the Davina Effect for short.
In Wales, as prescriptions are free, women can get HRT without charge, but in England this is not yet the case. Ultimately this will lead to the problem that those who are worse off will not be able to afford their prescriptions.
Adding considerable weight to the charge for better, equitable support for women is the work of self-titled ‘Fanny Physio’ Elaine Miller, who has been bringing down-to-earth, salty language laden stand-up comedy to the subject of menopause, HRT and continence.
Talking ‘pish’ and turning up to Holyrood dressed ‘as a fanny’ may well have attracted opprobrium from the Society of Physiotherapists but it is genuinely hard to argue with the fact that dealing with the continence issues, which tend to kick in around the start of the perimenopause, can actually save millions in onward costs to the health service and social care sector, not to mention lives and relationships of menopausal women.
Better awareness in the workplace is one way in which the lives of menopausal women can be improved as can taboo-busting conversation, lobbying and even stand-up comedy.
Tackling supply issues and making sure that political decisions such as Brexit do not affect the availability of medication is also vital – women should not be having to chop and change their HRT based on what they can get hold of.
Although many of these symptoms can be annoying at best and utterly debilitating at worst, the powers that be should not labour under the misapprehension that women are somehow weak and fragile as a result.
We are not – we are fierce and frankly furious that we have still got to battle for a basic tenet of our healthcare, an aspect which, if sorted, would benefit the lives not just of women but of everyone they come into contact with.
So when you are considering whether to invite your menopausal colleague to the quiz-and-chicken-in-a-basket night at the Frog and Sprocket, my best advice is to risk assess whether she is likely to breath fire and burn the place to the ground.
And only give her a hug if you have her express permission.
Happy World Menopause Day!
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Spot on! Lovely article!
I knew. My Teams notifications have been blowing up all week from seminar notifications about it
I don’t know enough about the menopause, but this article was a good first step. Thank you.
Don’t forget the male menopause, plis!