"How are you?"
A question we ask our friends, family and colleagues every day. If we were being honest a lot of us may answer: “Well not great actually, I’m really tired, I’m lacking my usual mojo and I’m having problems concentrating”.
What if we added: “I actually feel a bit anxious, my joints are aching, my skin and hair have changed, and I’ve been having heart palpitations.”
And then: “I’ve also been having hot flushes and night sweats.”
For most of us, only the last two symptoms would make us question whether any of these could be related to the menopause. Often a taboo subject that none of us want to discuss, feel ashamed and embarrassed to mention or simply don’t have a scooby about.
Menopause begins one year after a woman’s final period and perimenopause is the term used to describe the years before menopause – it’s when the ovaries stop producing eggs and the levels of women’s sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) fluctuate and fall.
The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51, but it can occur significantly earlier. Many women will experience perimenopausal symptoms in their 40s and the duration and severity of symptoms can vary. Most will experience symptoms for 4 years, but 1 in 10 will experience symptoms for up to 15 years. So, for some women, this could mean symptoms from their early 40s to their late 50s.
Despite it being a natural life process, the effects of the menopause, especially in the workplace, are rarely discussed.
Every woman will go through the menopause; some lucky ones will sail through it, whilst others will experience severe and debilitating conditions. People may think it’s a woman’s problem and that they should “just get over it”, but that woman is your mother, wife, partner, sister, colleague, daughter or your friend.
Women over 50 are demographically the fastest growing group of workers in the UK and by 2020 it is estimated that 1 in 3 of all British workers will be over 50. Together with the pension age for both genders rising in 2028, women experiencing these symptoms is something that will be much more commonplace at work. Something all should be cognisant of.
The sad truth though is that women are not getting the help they need outside or inside the workplace. Many are prescribed anti-depressants. Others end up being pushed from pillar to post from one GP to the next, due predominately to GP's lack of mandatory training and knowledge in this area. No surprise then that suicide is highest amongst women aged 50-54, that many marriages fail, and that a disproportionate amount of very experienced women leave their jobs at this time too.
It’s time to break the taboo and put this on the agenda, in the same way that mental health has been recognised. Friday 18th October was National Menopause day and Channel 4, as a company, launched a very progressive menopause policy for their employees.
Proximity is another forward-thinking organisation where this is also being championed, so that none of us will feel ashamed to answer “How are you” honestly and without prejudice or fear.