Busting menopause myths

Today is World Menopause Day, designated by the International Menopause Society (IMS) to raise awareness of improving health and well-being for women in mid-life and beyond.

It is important to us at St Hugh’s Hospital to support our staff, and understanding the menopause is high on our agenda.

As such, we now have two Menopause Mentors on site in Grimsby, patient services manager Hayley Wrightam and medical secretary team leader Tracy Belcher. Hayley is currently going through the menopause and Tracy already has. They have taken part in a workshop and have returned brimming with ideas on how to educate and support all staff in the hospital – and World Menopause Day is the perfect date to start telling you more about what they are doing.

But first, from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE; nice.org.uk), here are the definitions everyone should know:

Menopause: A biological stage in a woman’s life that occurs when she stops menstruating and reaches the end of her natural reproductive life. Usually, it is defined as having occurred when a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months (for women reaching menopause naturally). The changes associated with menopause occur when the ovaries stop maturing eggs and secreting oestrogen and progesterone.

Perimenopause: The time in which a woman has irregular cycles of ovulation and menstruation leading up to menopause and continuing until 12 months after her final period. The perimenopause is also known as the menopausal transition or climacteric.

Postmenopause: The time after menopause has occurred, starting when a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months.

And here are the most common symptoms, but not all – remember, everyone is different, and not everyone has every symptom, and the menopause is not a disease, so the word ‘symptom’ is used only to describe the effect of what is a natural part of the ageing process:

 

Hot flushes
Night sweats
Joint and muscle pains
Poor sleep and extreme tiredness
Headaches / worsening migraines
Poor memory
Poor concentration
Inability to multi-task
Brain fog
Low mood

 

“It is easy to see why it’s so important that workplaces understand the menopause and the effect it might have on employees,” say Hayley and Tracy. “Then there’s the obvious follow-on step in that thought process – that someone experiencing any symptoms might feel like it’s affecting their work.

“Staff have a right to be well, maximise their opportunities at work and continue to be productive. For this to happen, the ‘stigma’ or ‘taboo’ nature of the subject of the menopause must be crushed and myths must be busted and talking openly about it is the big starting point.

“That’s where we come in, as Menopause Mentors. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about or concerned by what is a natural process in the life of a woman.”

Statistics from ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, say there are 15.3 million women in employment in the UK; and 4.4 million women aged 50-64 are in work.Most women go through the menopause and in the UK, it is estimated that about one in threewomen are either currently going through or have reached the menopause. ACAS research also states that 88% of women workers who had experienced the menopause felt it affected their working life – about six in 10 had witnessed the issue being treated as a joke in the workplace, and 47% of women who had taken a day off work related to menopausal symptoms had not told their employer the reason for their absence.

There are many reasons why you might not feel comfortable talking to your employer about going through the menopause,” say Hayley and Tracy. “You might be embarrassed to discuss such a personal issue, or you might worry that people will laugh at you. There’s also the fear of being labelled in a bad way, or that by holding your hand up and asking for help would impact on your career progression. Other things, like a lack of experience on your manager’s part or an opinion that ‘it’s not really an issue’ can also make you think twice about raising it.

“That should not be the case in any workplace. As Menopause Mentors within St Hugh’s Hospital, we are proud to say we have a workplace that is open and responsive in this matter.

“The menopause is not a disease. It is completely natural. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be openly talked about. Some people might sail through it with no problems, but for others it can be a frustrating, and sometimes lonely place. This can only change by turning it from something that’s taboo into a topic that’s acknowledged and understood, and in the open.”

The theme for this year’s World Menopause Day is cognition and mood, focusing on brain fog and memory difficulties during menopause. Brain fog can include difficulty remembering words and numbers, disruptions in daily life (misplacing items like keys), trouble concentrating (absent mindedness, losing a train of thought, being more easily distracted), difficulty switching between tasks, forgetting the reason for doing something (like why you came into a room), and forgetting appointments and events.

The International Menopause Society says that research has found that women’s memory does in fact change at menopause. This means that brain fog is normal and common at midlife – and will improve post menopause – but is bothersome and can affect quality of life.

These memory complaints may be caused by rising and falling hormones levels and by somemenopause symptoms, like the hot flushes, sleep disturbances and mood changes. If you have moderate to severe hot flushes, especially at night, you may find your memory is affected.

Hayley and Tracy add: “The message is that this doesn’t have to be a difficult time in your life. We are all – and we mean all, from sons and daughters and partners to your boss and the person you sit next to at work – in it together.”

This article, on World Menopause Day, only touches the surface of everything we’d like to talk about on this topic. As our Menopause Mentors explore their new roles, over the coming weeks and months you will see us highlighting more about the menopause, Hayley’s and Tracy’s own experiences, and how we are supporting staff.