We’ve come a long way, baby

To celebrate World Menopause Month, let’s look at the story so far. Dried cows’ ovaries, anyone?  

October is World Menopause Month, a World Health Organisation initiative to raise awareness of menopause and the ways in which it affects women’s health. While we’ve come a long way, the fact remains that a natural life stage affecting half the world’s population is still misunderstood and largely taboo. 

Huge progress has been made in addressing issues around mental health, the LGBTQ+ conversation, sexual and racial discrimination, pregnancy and equal pay – yet menopause (which is both sexist and ageist!) remains a subject mired in embarrassment and misunderstanding. 

Things have changed since the 1800s, when doctors applied leeches to the pubic area or injected a solution of lead into the vagina to “cure” menopause; or the Victorian era, where women were committed to asylums because of their symptoms. And by the 1890s, far more sophisticated treatments were available – dried cows’ ovaries, anyone? 

Medically, treatments have moved on apace since then, from the 1940s, when the first oestrogens became available, through to the present day, when there’s an array of remedies available to menopausal women. So why is it that, culturally, the subject is still shrouded in mystery and misconception, to the extent that the majority of women are still ill informed, uneducated and unprepared when the menopause hits? 

To understand why it’s so fundamental that taboos are broken around the menopause and that positive change is effected, let’s look at some figures that put the scale of the problem in context. 

There are currently around 13 million women in the UK who are classed as peri- or post-menopausal. One in four symptomatic women professes to being concerned about their ability to cope with life. A recent Nuffield Health survey* found that two-thirds of women felt unsupported during this time, and only a third of women went to their GP for help. Of these, only 20% were prescribed HRT. 

Currently there is still no mandatory training for GPs on the subject of menopause. In the most basic terms, this means that unless a GP opts to inform themselves on this subject, they have little or no specific knowledge on a condition that will affect half their patients. In addition, there are only 29 specialist NHS menopause centres in the whole of the UK where GPs can refer women for further diagnosis and treatment. 

A 2017 survey from the University of Leicester estimates that there are 5 million working women aged 45-60, and menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace.** Nearly three-quarters of women in the survey said they felt a lack of support from their employers, and 90% felt unable to discuss the issue with their manager. As many as one in four menopausal women had, at some stage, contemplated resigning for menopause-related reasons. 

In 2017, this lack of information and support led our founder, Meg Mathews, to set up MegsMenopause. At the time, her aim was to inform herself and others on the symptoms and treatments available to women entering the menopause. Over the past three years, this aim has evolved to include advocacy, education and lobbying for change. Meg has appeared on TV, spoken to government departments and major corporations about menopause policy, and hosted conferences on the subject. 

Today, her website MegsMenopause.com has in excess of 100,000 visits per month, her first book on the subject, The New Hot: Taking on the Menopause with Attitude and Style, is out on October 1, and she remains committed to her mission of female empowerment and supporting women through the menopause. 

There are many positive signs that menopause is moving up the agenda – the recent addition of the subject to the PSHE curriculum in schools marks a significant move forward in bringing menopause into the mainstream, at least for future generations. 

In 2019, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) launched a policy manifesto for menopause at work, and a growing number of high-profile employers are beginning to implement specific menopause policies, including Channel 4, Network Rail, Sainsbury’s and Ernst & Young. 

World Menopause Month will generate more discussion around the topic, and the more we talk about the issue at work, online and among women in general, the more the taboo is broken. For our part, MegsMenopause.com will continue to provide women with an open source of information on all things menopause, and Meg herself will keep pushing the conversation forward. 

Henry Miller, the controversial US author, said: “Whenever a taboo is broken, something good happens, something vitalising. 

We are so pleased to be part of that change, and we would love you to join the conversation. 

By Kym Eason 

Sources: 

* https://www.nuffieldhealth.com/article/one-in-four-with-menopause-symptoms-concerned-about-ability-to-cope-with-life#about 
 

** https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/menopause-transition-effects-on-womens-economic-participation