Taming the taboo | Menopause and me

“It’s important we continue in our quest to de-stigmatise the menopause and to keep available support high on the University’s agenda.”

Taming the taboo | Menopause and me. October 2023

As we approach World Menopause Day on 18 October, Bernadette Hardware – a Health and Wellbeing Officer at Leeds – draws on her own experiences to celebrate progress to date whilst also reflecting on our aims and ambitions to further support those people affected by menopause.

During my early years working in healthcare, I provided care for many people who were transitioning though menopause. They often experienced a range of symptoms, many of which had become debilitating yet were left unrecognised. 

During these interactions, there were few self-initiated conversations on the subject and, at that point in time, only limited resources and advice was available. There was no clear pathway to provide people with the knowledge, support and treatment options to guide them through their transition. 

Just like them, I lacked the knowledge to suggest options about where best to seek more structured, evidence-based support. Generally, my advice was to refer them to their GP. Hormone replacement therapy, though available, was not widely used and Menopause was a taboo subject.

Menopause wasn’t included as part of the training curriculum for general nurses in the 1980s. Fast forward 40 years and I believe this is still the case, with 41% of medical schools having no mandatory training on the menopause

It’s heartening to hear, however, that it’s now possible to seek specialist support not only from your GP practice, but also though specialist menopause clinics. While these services are available both through the NHS and privately, we’ve got a long way to go to address the huge variation in the quality, accessibility, availability and cost of these services.

Listening to women’s voices

Whilst in recent years there have been many great achievements in raising awareness of menopause, treatment options and healthcare support, there’s still much work to be done. 

Recognising the need to employ a more holistic approach to menopause, an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Menopause has been established, as well as a Menopause Taskforce. The APPG provides a platform to address the lack of understanding around menopause among policymakers, employers and members of the public, to enable discussion around the issues and challenges that remain.

In 2022, the government published its first ever Women’s Health Strategy for England, which sets out its ambition to ‘improve the way in which the health and care system listens to women’s voices, and boost health outcomes for women and girls’.

Identifying the menopause as one of its priority areas, one of its 10-year ambitions is that ‘women are supported to remain in the workplace and employers are well equipped to support their workforce during the menopause. Employers are encouraged to implement evidence-based workplace support for the menopause, including introducing workplace menopause policies’.

The strategy is clear that the government won’t be able to meet its ambitions by itself, stressing the important role of external organisations, which includes employers. 

The government appointed its first female professor – Dame Lesley Regan – as a Women’s Health Ambassador for England, followed in March this year by its first Menopause Employment Champion, Helen Tomlinson.

From April this year, women in England prescribed Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) were able to access a new scheme that provides a year’s worth of menopause medications for the cost of two single prescription charges (currently £18.70) by purchasing a Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC).

Menopause in the workplace

Current estimates suggest there are about 13 million people currently peri or menopausal in the UK, which is equal to a third of the entire UK female population.

Three out of five working women (59%) between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on work.

With menopausal women being the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, and with almost eight out of 10 menopausal people being in work, it seems right to focus our attentions on supporting people in the workplace

Nationally, many organisations have recognised the value of better educating and supporting their employees on menopause, introducing guidance documents and policies, providing training and support, and including Menopause as part of their health and wellbeing offer and employee assistance programmes.

There are a whole range of organisations, support networks, toolkits, workshops and seminars widely available across the UK.

From a personal perspective, despite having a good understanding and background knowledge of menopause, how and where to access information, guidance and support, and the ability to easily navigate treatment pathways, the transition has proved challenging. Working in a forward-thinking organisation like the University, where the value of providing support is well recognised, where I feel able to express my struggles to my manager and colleagues, and where I can access a wide range of support, has proved invaluable.

Our commitment

As part of the University’s commitment to improving menopause support for our community, a working group has been established to help deliver a range of projects and initiatives to raise awareness of the menopause and develop a culture where conversations around the subject are normalised.

Our annual celebration of World Menopause Day takes place on 18 October, with a packed programme of online and in-person activities to raise awareness of the menopause and the support available at Leeds. All staff and students are welcome – whether you’re experiencing the menopause yourself or would like to be more knowledgeable and supportive to those who are. 

Whilst we have made huge strides, there’s still much more to be done.

We will continue to work closely with members of our University community to better understand how we can meet their needs, especially those from under-represented communities and all who feel they have something to contribute. We welcome anyone who would like to get involved in our work to contact me – Bernadette Hardware – or Bee Macpherson for further information.

It’s important we continue in our quest to de-stigmatise the menopause and to keep available support high on the University’s agenda.

Posted in: