The menopause significantly affects psychological wellbeing as well as physical, but the link between symptoms like anxiety, depression, memory loss, and the menopause is something that often goes unnoticed by GPs, employers, and women themselves.
What causes the psychological symptoms?
A decline in oestrogen levels is what’s responsible for the psychological symptoms that many women experience. Oestrogen plays a big part in mood regulation and offers protection from cognitive decline, and as levels fall, many women are left feeling anxious and depressed, like they can no longer function from day to day. As you can imagine, this hugely affects the quality of life of millions of women, and many of these women still have to go to work.
Menopause is not on the mental health agenda
In recent years, there have been huge efforts to educate more people about mental health, particularly in the workplace, which is something to be applauded. Yet Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Awareness courses fail to mention the effects of the menopause on mental health. Something that affects millions of women is missing from the agenda.
I’m a trained Mental Health First Aider, and it wasn’t mentioned during my training. What I see is that there’s a lot of investment in diversity and mental health training, but the menopause isn’t being picked up. To me, this is a huge missed opportunity to educate women, their male colleagues, and employers about the menopause and how it can affect mental health.
Women are kept ‘in the dark’ about menopause symptoms
Women are routinely ‘in the dark’ about what can happen once menopause begins, and famously, celebrities have spoken out about their experiences.
In a TV interview on Lorraine, Carol Vorderman spoke about the terrible bout of depression she suffered during the menopause. She talked about it being a ‘blackness’, where she would wake up and feel like there was no point in carrying on. She considered ending it all, and had no idea that these thoughts were linked to the menopause.
Ulrika Jonsson said she experienced ‘unimaginable anxiety’ and became so forgetful that she thought she had Alzheimer’s.
These women are in the public eye and they brought much-needed attention to the fact that many women believe they’re going ‘mad’ or suffering from some sort of illness because of the effects of the menopause. Lots of women in my Facebook group worry loads about memory loss and how disarming it can be.
Dealing with menopause symptoms at work
Imagine feeling like this and trying to hold down a job. Many women do, but many also reduce their hours, consider leaving their jobs, or actually leave because of their symptoms.
Symptoms like insomnia, loss of concentration, memory problems and anxiety can cause problems at work like being late, making mistakes, becoming more easily stressed, and not being able to perform as well as they did. Because the menopause is not considered an illness, there might not be much sympathy shown by managers or male colleagues. Women might also not be so forthcoming about what they’re going through-who wants to be seen as the ‘emotional’ female in the office, suffering from women’s problems, especially if they have worked hard to get into the position they’re in?
So, what can be done to address the effects of the menopause on mental health?
Well the first step is it needs to be taken seriously. There was a time when a woman’s working life was pretty much over by the time she reached menopause, but that’s not the case now. The average age for menopause is 51, and many women work until they’re 68 and beyond.
Education is so important, for women and men. For women, they need to be told that the menopause is a stage of life, and that they’re not mad or ill. They need to know what to expect. For men, it will help them to understand what their female colleagues or partners are going through.
Women in senior positions can play a role in pushing discussions and action on the issue in the workplace, and they can lead by example for other women.
Employers can introduce training for employees and managers, as well as reviewing the working environment and working hours, and making any reasonable adjustments that are necessary.
It’s time that the menopause and its effects on mental health were taken seriously so that millions of women don’t have to continue suffering in silence. With a bit of education and compassion, everyone can play their part.
Raising awareness about the menopause among women, men, and employers is all about education and making it comfortable and acceptable for people to speak about it. Menopause is not a condition to be treated and cured, it’s a normal stage of life that every woman goes through. Helping people to realise this is my mission.
My training events are aimed at educating HR professionals, managers, and working women about the menopause in a fun, engaging, and informative way.