We are talking about the menopause now more than we ever have.
In recent years, celebrities such as Davina McCall and Gabby Logan have shared their stories and helped raise awareness of women’s experiences.
There is a wealth of information about it in books and online, and many employers are now recognising the impact of menopause in the workplace and offering support to members of staff experiencing it.
It’s long overdue. According to the My Menopause Centre website, which runs a menopause clinic with Dr Anna Greaves at the Duchy Hospital in Harrogate, it’s estimated nearly half of women in the UK are currently either experiencing perimenopause, menopause or post-menopause.
And with women going through the menopause at a younger age compared to 100 years ago, combined with a longer life expectancy, many women can spend nearly 40 per cent of their lives post-menstrual.
More and more women are being empowered to understand what is happening to their bodies during the menopause and to navigate their own unique journey towards the treatment that works best for them.
In the Harrogate district, there’s a variety of help available, from specialist GPs and private consultations to support groups and health and wellbeing classes.
It’s good to talk
Vic Smith-Dunn runs Harrogate-based social enterprise MyLifePool, through which she launched MeNoPause, a peer support group that brings women together to share their experiences pre, during and post menopause.
It was prompted by her own struggles during the menopause and her quest for the right treatment which saw her try HRT, testosterone, alternative medicine and vitality screenings for whole body health, with varying degrees of success.
Vic, 51, said:
“Every woman has their own unique experience of the menopause but it’s so important to share questions, tips, support, understanding, care and kindness.
“So many people suffer in silence. There’s an unwillingness for people to be open about it still. I think that’s partly because in our culture menopause is linked with old age and lack of fertility. I’m a very confident, outspoken woman but how many other women are struggling who don’t speak out? Don’t wait until you reach rock bottom before you do anything about it.”
As well as bringing women together at the support group, Vic also runs ad hoc MeNoPause Matters information events. The next one is on Monday, January 29, with local GP Dr Sarah Hattam, who will be offering advice and guidance around menopause and HRT.
A further event is planned in February or March with local GP and menopause specialist Dr Heather Pope, who also offers face-to-face clinics through Newson Health at The Harlow in Harrogate.
As a member of the MeNoPause group, Margot Richardson shares her own journey to help other women feel more informed and less alone.
Margot, 68, had a hysterectomy at the age of 53, but later started with chronic insomnia and loss of libido. However, when she visited her GP she was told she was too old to be going through the menopause. It wasn’t until she was 64 that she was put on HRT, but it didn’t improve anything. She said:
“I did some research and asked my GP if I could try testosterone. Within two weeks of using the testosterone, my libido and sleep had returned. It was amazing.
“We need more information and to be more aware. It’s about finding what works for you and also knowing that there are many different aspects to menopause. It’s not just the hot flushes and mood swings as portrayed in the media. We are living a lot longer now – I might have 30 years left and I want to enjoy them.”
‘It’s about empowering women’
Dr Sarah Hattam, from Harrogate, has been a GP for nearly 30 years and is a BMS (British Menopause Society) registered menopause expert.
She says menopause needs to be “democratised and personalised” to help all women find the support and care they need during their menopause transition and beyond.
“We need personalised support that is accessible to everyone. There are about 35 different symptoms of the menopause and studies have shown that around 80 per cent of women don’t realise they are going through it for a year.
Women classically at this time of life are the ‘sandwich generation’ – juggling a career, children still at home and looking after the older generation – and then the menopause hits.
They may really pull back socially, they lose self-esteem and self-confidence. We know that women who have had mood issues earlier in life often experience more of the mood-related symptoms. It’s about unpicking what’s going on and how best to treat it.”
Dr Hattam is an experienced speaker on menopause-related issues in the workplace and says highly skilled and experienced women in their 40s and 50s are leaving their jobs in droves because they are not getting the right support from their employers during the menopause.
“Between 45 and 55 is the peak age for women to take their own lives. It’s also the time when their primary relationship is likely to break down. It’s an issue for everyone, not just women.
“At work, you are likely to be sitting alongside or be managed by a woman going through menopause, or at home you may have a partner or family member experiencing it.”
Dr Hattam recommends that women do their own research and visit their GP surgery in the first instance, but stressed it’s important to ask to see the person leading on women’s health or with an interest in the menopause.
She offers online appointments through My Menopause Centre, alongside personalised, evidence-based information and guidance to women, their partners and employers through her own website Me & My Menopause.
“We need to get evidence-based information out there so that women understand what’s going on with their bodies and what their support and treatment options are.
“It’s about empowering women and helping them advocate for what they want. We need to make sure that as many women as possible have the information they need. All treatments that are available privately are also available through your GP, although it can depend on your local prescribing guidelines.”
Dr Hattam also highlighted the HRT prepayment certificate, which covers the cost of HRT treatment for £19.30 a year.
Health and wellbeing
Emma Spalding offers personal training, fitness classes and rehabilitation through her business Emergy Fitness & Wellbeing. As well as specialising in cancer and cardiac rehabilitation and prevention, Emma also has an interest in helping women stay fit and healthy during the menopause. She said:
“It’s key for women to be kind to themselves and engage in regular self-care to help them both physically and mentally. It’s about getting good sleep, exercising regularly, having a good work-life balance, and managing your stress levels.
“There’s a fabulous choice of top-class fitness professionals in the Harrogate district to help women become fitter and stronger during their menopause journey.
“It’s recommended to do 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times a week, as well as two sessions of resistance strength training, which is great for increasing muscle mass and helps with bone density and osteoporosis.
“Diet is really important, too. It’s essential to drink two litres of water a day and eat a healthy balanced diet, particularly ensuring you eat enough protein.”
Emma runs menopause health and wellbeing events alongside Carmel Duff, a registered nurse at the Police Treatment Centre in Harrogate with an interest in menopause who holds information sessions for police officers.
Carmel recommends that women do their own research about the menopause, ideally at around the age of 40 so they are prepared for the changes to come.
“We need to develop awareness among women to be proactive in making themselves well informed before it happens.
“Women often experience anxiety and low mood and don’t recognise these as perimenopause symptoms so they end up being prescribed anti-depressants. I meet so many women who say, ‘I never knew that’ or ‘No one ever told me that’.
“Women also need to know how to get the best out of their health professional. The treatment path should be very collaborative so every woman gets the best care and treatment plan, and it is also reviewed regularly.”
Sara Abbas-Llewelyn is a pharmacist of over 20 years who has recently trained in naturopathy and now offers vitality screening full body health assessments at The Harrogate Clinic. She says women going through the menopause come to see her to check their hormones and find out what’s happening in their bodies, adding:
“It’s about looking at the body as a whole and treating everyone as an individual. If your body is working at its optimum then you’re better armed to deal with the menopause. It can help women feel empowered and in control in a very out of control situation.”
Menopause and ADHD
A little known aspect of menopause is how women with ADHD can experience particular struggles. Through her business Perspective Coaching, neurodiversity coach Lisa Poole meets women in this situation, some of whom aren’t even aware before the menopause starts that they have ADHD.
“During the menopause when your oestrogen drops your brain doesn’t have the right chemical balance and that has a massive impact on mental health. ADHD can exacerbate menopause symptoms and ADHD medication doesn’t work as well when you have low oestrogen.
“Women can really struggle when menopause or perimenopause hits and are often diagnosed with anxiety and depression. And some of the wellbeing activities suggested for women during the menopause, such as taking a walk or meditation, can be near impossible for people with ADHD.”