Colette Sheridan: Society needs to shake off its hang-ups about the menopause

We really need to shake off our hang-ups about the menopause. It’s not a failing. It’s part of women’s lives, so says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Colette Sheridan: Society needs to shake off its hang-ups about the menopause

TESTING TIME: For every ten women experiencing the menopausal symptoms, six say it is having a negative impact on their work. Picture: Stock

A FRIEND said she was mortified while speaking to a colleague recently. Because her face turned bright red in front of him, she was afraid he would think she fancied him.

Fancying anybody was way down on her list of priorities. She has the peri-menopause, that debilitating time in every woman’s life when she thinks she is going gaga, regularly feels hot and bothered and peels off layers of clothing to experience temporary cooling down.

Add to that poor concentration, fatigue, sleep problems, night sweats and a pathetic memory — so pathetic that you regularly find yourself in a room, wondering what it was you wanted to do there. Or your conversations peters out as you forget the salient point you had intended to make.

Then there’s low libido and generally feeling low and depressed. Who would be a woman?

Mood swings give us a bad press. Women are seen as unstable and hysterical. That goes way back to ancient times. And despite decades of feminism, we still are often written off in the workplace when it comes to promotion.

Between having babies and later experiencing the lead-up to the menopause, women’s lives are dictated by biology. It isn’t fair. We joke about men’s mid-life crisis which might indulgently excuse an affair. But for women, the menopause is no laughing matter. We can barely talk about it due to the fear of stigmatisation.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, in a survey last year, found that almost half of those spoken to said the menopause was treated as a joke in their workplace. Some 28% said it was treated negatively at work. It’s no wonder it’s almost a taboo subject.

But we badly need to talk about the M word. Next month, in Dublin, The M Word, Ireland’s first major conference on the menopause, takes place. Speakers include Meg Matthews who recently launched a website,

Loose Women panellist, TV presenter, Andrea McLean, has been forthright on the subject of ‘the change’ and wrote a book, Confessions of a Menopausal Woman after having a hysterectomy. She will take her ‘confessions’ on the road with a tour. And interestingly, she is trying to get women to wear a ‘Menopause’ badge on public transport.

It’s a similar idea to having a badge on your car saying ‘Baby on Board.’ Presumably, a woman advertising her menopause on a bus would ideally be treated solicitously. But I suspect women might be scoffed at for declaring their biological status. We have a long way to go before the menopause is seen as a difficult time of transition for women who deserve respect and consideration.

It’s an attitude problem. In some cultures, the menopause is regarded positively. (Why wouldn’t it be? It marks the end of often painful periods and the fear of getting pregnant for women who don’t want an extra child or don’t want children at all.) In Japan, the menopause is a ‘period of renewal.’ In China, it is similarly known as a ‘second spring.’

Women in these cultures say they have lower levels of disruption during the menopause. This could be because they have a diet high in soya. Undoubtedly and just as important, the positive societal attitude is another factor.

Women over the age of fifty are the fastest growing segment of the workforce and most will go through the menopause transition in the course of their working lives. For every ten women experiencing menopausal symptoms, six say the menopause is having a negative impact on their work.

However, with the right support, there is no need for women to become stagnant in their careers during this natural transition. But there are many women suffering in silence. That will continue to be the case unless we bust the taboo and start talking openly about the menopause at work.

Of course, there are women for whom the menopause is uneventful. But for others, it can be very difficult to operate effectively at work. Working conditions can exacerbate women’s symptoms. For example, something as basic as temperature in the workplace is an issue for many women. If it’s warm in the office, it’s going to be unfeasibly hot for menopausal women who get the hot flushes.

Some years ago, the British Occupational Health Research Foundation published research exploring women’s experience of working through the menopause. It found that many women were ill-prepared for the arrival of the menopause and even less equipped to deal with its symptoms at work.

Over half had not disclosed their symptoms to their manager. Where women had taken time off work because of their symptoms, only half of them disclosed the real reason for absence to their line managers.

We really need to shake off our hang-ups about the menopause. It’s not a failing. It’s part of women’s lives.

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