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Menopause – still a taboo?


Kathy Abernethy

Menopause Specialist, author of ‘Menopause: The One Stop Guide’ and Chairman of the British Menopause Society

“There is a lot of laughter, even a few tears (menopause often causes that), and most of all immense relief that the topic is being mentioned at work…”

Sitting in a room of a London-based insurance company, presenting a session on menopause awareness, I look out at the audience and see women of a certain age – lots of them, all keen to find out what’s normal at menopause, what’s not and how symptoms can be helped – especially at work.

There is a lot of laughter, even a few tears (menopause often causes that), and most of all immense relief that the topic is being mentioned at work, that managers are being encouraged to attend and that menopause is at last being spoken about in the workplace.

There is a lot of support for menopausal women – finally

I see menopause in every newspaper, every woman’s magazine and, because I too am of ‘a certain age’, I get targeted with adverts every day for products to help ‘ease through the menopause’. I could join Facebook groups, go to a menopause café, join an online support forum or attend a wellbeing event all around the topic of menopause.

Women are finally open to discussing what was once considered a very personal journey. This has been primarily driven by women; those who have ‘been there, done that’ and see the need to help other women. They have filled the gaps left by others, often providing much-needed, easily accessible, evidence-based information. 

In 2015, NICE guidance on diagnosis and management of menopause was published. This was the culmination of a lot of hard work by healthcare professionals with an interest in menopausal health and it took time to gather the medical evidence needed to offer strong recommendations.

The result is clear and lengthy guidance, about advising women on this important topic; the importance of offering hormone replacement therapy (HRT) if symptoms are bothersome; of giving women choices and of helping women understand the changes that may occur at this time. Yet, still, women say it can be hard to get medical support if needed, that the myths of HRT still abound, even among medics and that the treatment options are not always offered.

Teaching GPs on how to give women the best advice

The British Menopause Society (BMS), works towards improved education for healthcare professionals and educates hundreds of GPs all around the country every year. This year, on World Menopause Day, it published the first ‘Register of Specialists’1. The clinicians on this register have all met an agreed professional level of expertise, stay up-to-date and see women regularly for menopausal issues.

The vision – everyone has access to a a menopause practitioner

The number is growing by the day as more doctors and nurses complete the courses and meet the specialist criteria agreed by four professional organisations. Yet more is needed; the BMS vision is that every GP practice in the UK has someone with a special interest in menopause and that every area has a menopause specialist, accessible to those who need it the most and to support local practitioners.

So, with women empowering other women and with enthusiastic and skilled healthcare professionals educating their peers, the outlook should be positive for menopausal health.

Yes, there is long way to go: there are still stories of women let down by their doctors, of employers and managers being discriminatory and of women at the end of their tether, left to cope without help or support – that is not good enough and must improve. The menopause is a natural life event, let’s not medicalise it, but equally let’s not trivialise it. Information, support and treatment where needed is all women ask, that should be achievable, surely?

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