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Breaking down the stigma of menopause

by Rebecca Clark

Historically, women’s health has been seen as ‘other’ and mysterious despite women being half of the population. In the 21st century progress is being made. We have started talking more openly about smear tests and period poverty among other topics. Another women’s health issue we need to bring to the forefront is menopause.

Menopause, alongside menstruation, has often been used as the punchline to jokes and a way to humiliate and degrade women. While hormonal changes might be funny to some, they are normal bodily changes that most women have to experience. Unfortunately, they can come with some difficult side effects that women should be supported through, not made fun of for. This is not new and it is an issue around the world. Did you know in Arabic the word menopause means Age of Despair and in some Asian countries, there is no word for menopause?

Clearly menopause is still a taboo topic. It shouldn’t be. It is a natural change that a lot of women go through and they all deserve support as they do so. The stigma that shrouds menopause in secrecy is having a negative impact on everyone.

The common knowledge of menopause is fairly patchy. Most people know it’s when a woman no longer gets her period. Some might know that hot flushes are a symptom. But knowledge beyond that is lacking even though accurate information is necessary for women to be able to deal with menopause in the first place.

Experiencing bodily and emotional changes without knowing the reason behind it is scary. Without being able to join up the dots women can’t get the help they need to deal with this period of their life as easily as they can do. Facts are empowering and right now not enough women know them, never mind the other people in their life that should be supporting them through this time. This knowledge gap has an extremely negative impact.

Menopause is not a woman's personal issue because it affects all aspects of her life. That’s how she interacts with her family and friends, how she behaves at work and her health. Even small changes like diet and exercise can make a massive difference. Ignoring menopause doesn’t benefit anyone. With open conversation, those experiencing menopause and those around them can put their best foot forward.

A lot of the shame around menopause is caused by negative attitudes towards women. Their objectification means when they are older and no longer fertile, they are seen as less valuable and are instead ‘washed up’. Menopause shouldn’t be seen as the end for women. Women should be just as respected as they were before.

Talking about it to gain support and simply be understood by other women with similar experiences can make a real difference. However, ‘a third cited embarrassment or difficulties in discussing the menopause with their employers and one in five mentioned criticism and even harassment from their Managers’. If we can overcome the negativity surrounding menopause, women can get the support they need and have a much better experience of menopause. The stigma and fear even seeps into medical consultations. A national poll found ‘Nearly half of all women over 50 experience urinary incontinence, but two-thirds haven’t talked to their doctor about it.’

Unless we take action to break down the stigma around menopause those going through it will continue to suffer necessarily in silence and in shame. An inclusive environment where menopausal women are listened to is essential. Remember going through menopause is nothing to be ashamed of.

Lesley Salem, founder of Over The Bloody Moon is on a mission to remove the stigma and muddle from menopause. Spurred on by her own poor mental health triggered by perimenopause, she’s seen first-hand the impact of not being able to have those difficult conversations with colleagues.

Only by sharing experiences can we learn how to support ourselves and each other. Only when we normalise menopause and other transitions and trauma of life can we truly create a cultural shift.

Those who may be in a vulnerable state find it hard to speak out so making menopause events, training and support available can help reduce the chances of women leaving the workplace and start to truly show we really want gender parity. Menopause is not the end for women. It is a new beginning.

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