Ana's blog: The menopause.... please keep reading!
I know it’s an uncomfortable topic which is not often talked about – that’s why I want to write about it. I attended an event hosted by Aviva last week (thank you) and realised how little I know about the menopause. So I thought it might help others to share some of what I learnt and my experience.
Firstly, it affects almost everyone in the workforce. Either women going through it themselves. Or men having their wife, sister or mother going through it. Or line managers managing colleagues. It doesn’t just impact the woman; it can affect everyone around her. I vividly remember my mother going through this time of life and how difficult it was coping with her mood swings. She spent a lot of time in bed when I was a teenager, which I didn’t understand at the time but looking back could have been depression linked to the menopause.
Secondly, most people associate the menopause with old age. It’s not about old age. In the 1900’s the menopause occurred on average at age 45 and a woman’s life expectancy was 45. Today the average age to reach menopause is 51, with many women experiencing symptoms up to 10 years prior. With average life expectancy for a woman being almost 83 today and women working longer than ever, the menopause is happening mid-life and certainly during a woman’s working life. I am 47 so statistically I am peri-menopausal. In the past couple of years I have absolutely suffered a loss of confidence and I have become really forgetful for people’s names. I am also going through a period of poor sleep. Lack of sleep can be debilitating – unless you have been through it it’s hard to appreciate. Until last week I didn’t appreciate these are all symptoms of the menopause!
Which leads nicely on to my third point – symptoms. Whilst the menopause happens to every single woman, 25% of women experience no symptoms at all, 50% experience moderate symptoms and 25% experience severe symptoms. On average, most symptoms last around 4 years. However, around 1 in every 10 women experiences them for up to 12 years. I do hope my lack of sleep doesn’t last 12 years! There are c.34 symptoms of the menopause. As well as physical symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and joint pain, there can be significant psychological symptoms such as anxiety, loss of confidence and ‘brain fog’. Yes brain fog is an actual thing, who knew?! Could the loss of confidence explain the lack of women in senior positions?!
There is no magic solution for how to deal with the menopause at work. Some companies have a policy, some have a toolkit, some are starting by raising awareness. I am doing my piece by starting to talk about it. I’ve found it quite embarrassing raising this topic at work though. It is definitely not something people are comfortable talking about, or even hearing about!
For anyone else who would like to start the conversation, organisations such as Business In The Community, Henpicked and Peppy are doing some great work on this topic (type any of these and add the word menopause in your internet search engine).
Ana works in financial services in the City.