Kirsty Wark photo: Guardian

The lack of awareness of how menopausal symptoms can affect women in the workplace has been highlighted by a new study; carried out just down the road from me at King’s College Hospital. Myra Hunt emeritus professor of clinical health psychology told the Guardian that while policies to support pregnant women are the norm, the menopause remains a taboo issue:

‘Often there’s a will to address this among managers but they just don’t know how to talk about it. Women want it to be raised if appropriate. They don’t want to be treated as ill, they just want some understanding and awareness of it.’

The Guardian uses a case study to support this: Angela Bonnett a 57-year-old senior project manager for a financial institution found mood swings and hot flushes were affecting her performance. The situation improved after she sent her 30-something male boss a link to an online feature outlining menopausal-related difficulties, this eased communication between the pair and raised her boss’ understanding of the issue.

I’ve suffered from tiredness, irritability, hot flushes and brain fog, but fortunately as a freelance journalist I do not have to attend regular board meetings, represent clients in court or wear a uniform. But there are over 3.5 million women aged between 50 – 65 in the workplace, in the UK (according to the Office for National Statistics) and so more openness and awareness and better communication is the way forward. After you…

There’s another feature on ‘How to handle menopause in the workplace’ HERE.

15 thoughts on “Menopause at Work

  1. This is such an important issue and I’m so glad you cover these things Alyson. As someone who is retraining for a second, creative career (freelance) I can’t imagine how I would have coped back in the corporate world. Sometimes it is hard enough for older women to feel valued in a younger workplace without dealing with the awful effects of menopause. The psychological side can be truly debilitating and I’m so glad that more women in the public eye are talking about it. I am on HRT as I just couldn’t deal with the mood swings and thought I was losing my marbles at one point.
    I was completely unprepared, as I think lots (most?) of us are. This is just another way that women of our age group need to be visible and forthright.

  2. I think it’s of the utmost importance to talk about Menopause openly in general conversation. Normalising it so those affected can be understood. Studies are great too but until the general population stops thinking of Menopause as a taboo subject Women will continue to suffer in silence. I know many don’t even seek help because they feel its2something they should just put up with. After all it’s natural right? Hmm…The reactions I get still make me laugh. Sometimes a cringe, speaking in hushed tones or tooth sucking.
    I even had to do my own research into the various types of HRT because my GP only offered me one option!

  3. Like a bolt out of the blue I started to get anxiety attacks recently. I could be sat watching a film in the cinema that I was really enjoying, when suddenly I couldn’t be there any more. I have developed insane worries, that ruin days out, and sleep – whats that! I put up with it for ages, thinking it was a passing thing, when it struck me, I turned 50 recently. Could it be the menopause? I have gone down the HRT route, which helps, but is not a miracle cure. At work we talk about most things quite happily, we are all middle aged, but no one ever mentions menopause. I may have to be brave and start it off.

    1. I developed similar anxiety attacks when I hit 51 or so – like you, I didn’t make a link with peri-menopause, but then the flushes and night-sweats started too. I had a really sympathetic doctor, because I didn’t want HRT. She put me on the lowest possible dose (10mg) of Citalopram, which is a mild anti-depressant with a handy side effect of stopping menopausal flushes. I’ve been taking it for c. 3 months now, and it stopped the flushes immediately (very handy for work). I would say it’s reduced the severe anxiety episodes too, though I also decided to quit my job at the same time, which may of course have something to do with it! I’m not saying it’s the right course of medication for everyone, but thought it at least worth sharing that it’s really worked for me. Hope things even out for you one way or the other, I talked about it very openly to my (female) boss and found that helpful to be able to tell her honestly what was going on for me.

  4. I think one of the most difficult aspects is disentangling the menopause from everything else. I am 51, have suffered depression for years and anxiety recently. I am several degrees warmer than I have been in the past, but still with poor circulation in my fingers so I suffer in the cold. I have brain fog, but is that the depression, the pills I take for it, or the menopause? I started a job in a fairly stressful, new to me field a year ago and just could not understand what I needed to. Was that a natural limitation? my pills? the menopause? the depression/anxiety? My periods have slowed to one or three a year over the last three years. Who can tell, eh?

  5. I never took HRT to deal with menopausal symptoms although my GP tried to encourage me to do so. Because my sister had had breast cancer and recovered I didn’t want to increase my risks. I saw a nurse to advise on alternatives and talked another GP into prescribing a cream to be rubbed into thighs. In the end I didn’t use any medication but bought books on how to manage menopause via plant based oestrogens etc. I put up with symptoms without saying much tamping my brow and fanning myself. I took to wearing layers of natural fabrics which could be stripped off. At night I would wake up and strip bedding and nightclothes off and dry my damp chest and hair. But it did pass fortunately and I didn’t gain weight. I had a harder time with peri menopause with weight gain and no one to turn to until a friend lent me some helpful books. In turn with younger friends when they described what they were going through I lent them my books so they could work out how to cope. A much better state of affairs when the subject of Menopause is being discussed and there are programs on television. But it’s tricky at a time when many women are trying to look younger to keep their jobs.

  6. my experience of menopause has been somewhat a rollercoaster, but I am unable to take hrt because of family cancer history. I talk amongst my friends who are experiencing menopause and for the most part our experiences seem similar. as for the workplace I would be one of the more senior women, when I tried to broach menopause with the younger women a couple of months ago I was told “I don’t want to know”. I explained that I wished someone like my mother (but she never did) had discussed menopause with me so that when it happened I didn’t feel like I had been thrown off the bus of my otherwise normal life. Its true women prepare younger women for periods and childbirth or at least that is my experience so why not menopause is it because it is to do with AGEING? are we that adverse to AGEING that we cannot allow ourselves to discuss menopause. I watch at meetings women fan themselves, shifting in their seats, taking off, then putting back on a cardigan, a scarf enough of youth at all costs.

    1. Yep, youth at any cost. No idea how the ‘Wise Woman’ can take her rightful place in society again. So much knowledge, insight, experience, energy, quiet power and emotional intelligence just relegated to the ‘chin hairs and craft fairs’ trope (carefully steps off soapbox due to dodgy knee).

  7. I have ben suffering with menopausal symptoms for a long time -over 10 years and I think now it will never go away. I have hot flushes, panic attacks, irritability, feelings of trepidation and so on. These feeling some on several times a day for no reason. Fortunately, I am retired so I can try and cope. When I was working I was able to sit by a window for some fresh air and/or go outside to calm down.
    My husband still says, what on earth is wrong with you? when I suddenly start breathing heavily ( another attack) Men have no inkling of what is going on.
    I hope awareness can be raised without any patronising behaviour or ageist comments but that might be a step too far.
    I sympathise great with any woman in the workplace who suffers like this.

    1. I’m so sorry that you are going through this Chris. I got a lot of assistance from my doctor but I had to be very persistent. You sound like a lovely lady and I hope that you will get the help and understanding that you need.

  8. I am one of the lucky ones who had few menopausal problems beyond the odd hot flush. I did gain weight but that was due more, I think, to a back injury which made me less mobile for a while, and comfort eating to cope with the pain. But I have seen friends suffer miserably with all manner of symptoms, exacerbated by the awful silence surrounding the menopause, particularly in the workplace. We want to be taken seriously and dread the dismissive ‘women’s problems’ put down. Well, we are women and some of us are struggling with the downside that the menopause can bring. I’m sure that more openness and understanding would in themselves make managing this transition less troublesome.

  9. I am 45 and have been having night sweats for about a year. However, recently started becoming very forgetful (forgetting the words for everyday items – door, window, lunch etc). Would have linked it to stress, had I been so, but I’m not at present – Hadn’t linked it to possible menopausal symptoms until someone else mentioned it to me.

  10. I’ve been surprised at how effective a fine spray of water is, for flushes. A quick spray to the face often allows me to go back to sleep, and a more extensive spray makes intense flushes or hot weather much more bearable.
    So simple, wish someone had told me about it earlier! How silly this taboo is, about something so normal.
    A large proportion of people who have had prostate or breast cancer will have symptoms such as the flushes, from years of hormone treatment, so this affects both sexes and many ages. Time to talk about it.

    1. Thank you, Su! Finally, some practical advice. Menopause is a bitch. Seems like we just got over PMS and Post-partum depression. We’ve got to be strong, maintain our sense of humor, talk honestly to each other without involving the whole workplace/dinnerparty/neighborhood or we’ll become total bores.

  11. I went through this at 46 but didn’t have sweats or brain fog..just hyperplasia which required a D and C. That was quite unpleasant. Oh to be 47 wrinkles, good figure, running and doing rowing..interesting relationship, size 8 dresses that were darling [killer green silk dress in particular]. Highly technical job..which I guess made me forget about the process I was going through with my body. I didn’t have time to worry about myself. Focused on military career and being a good soldier as well as the being the mother of a teenager as a single parent.

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