Reaching the menopause is a huge milestone. It’s a transition in our lives, signalling the end of one era and the beginning of the next. Currently, an estimated 13 million women in the UK are peri- or post-menopausal, but research suggests that a third can’t talk about their symptoms with a partner, whilst only a quarter feel able to talk about it at work.
It’s almost a taboo: women worldwide experience menopause, and many endure the turmoil of its symptoms, but it’s rarely a topic that we discuss over a glass of wine with our friends. Yet, it’s a natural part of a women’s life. It’s a change that we all go through and in different ways.
While some are lucky enough to sail through menopause with barely a symptom, the reality is that 80% experience symptoms – from brain fog to anxiety, depression, loss of libido, hair loss, vaginal dryness and weight gain. The period of menopausal change is also a peak time for suicide, and research has revealed that when visiting their GP during menopause, women are more likely to be offered antidepressants than HRT.
Why don’t we talk about menopause more openly?
I believe that modern society can be a difficult place for menopausal women. Throughout our life, we are fed images of youth and beauty being our aspiration, our fertile years defining us as women. The media pick apart female celebrities as they age for the whole world to see, criticising them for sprouting a grey hair, gaining or losing weight, or having anything other than a perfectly polished complexion. It has become ingrained into many of us that menopause is the end of our youth, vitality and womanhood, instead of a positive time to be celebrated.
Many women feel scared or embarrassed to discuss the change with their friends, family or colleagues, largely due to the negative language surrounding the subject. Derogatory phrases such as “All dried up”, “Going through the change”, or “She must be having a hot flush” are thrown around carelessly, shaming women and making them feel invisible or written off. This makes talking about menopause increasingly difficult for many women, even to their own family or partner, which can understandably make them feel very isolated and alone.
Now it’s time to shift the conversation from outdated negative narratives of the past to finding empowerment within the menopause.
Opening up the conversation
My biggest piece of advice is to reach out to someone you trust – whether it be a GP, a friend or a partner. At any doctor’s surgery, GPs will have various areas of expertise – ask if there’s someone with a specialist knowledge of menopause who you can talk to.
There is an idea that women must carry on throughout perimenopause with little complaining. These changes, however, can be devastating and quite often, they can happen at a time of life when other changes are happening, such as children growing up and moving out. Women must know that all the symptoms they’re experiencing are preventable and physical changes reversible.
Men and other women can play a hugely important role in the menopause, whether that’s a better understanding of what their partner is going through or learning how to support a work colleague. Opening up the conversation about menopause and educating society is something we should all strive to do.
One of the hardest things about the menopause is feeling like we have to go through it alone, but we really don’t. If you can find it in yourself to open up about your journey and allow yourself to be vulnerable for just a moment, I would say you’re already halfway there.
The conversation around the menopause is certainly getting louder, but we still have a long way to go in helping women reclaim their power over this new chapter in their life.