Psychotherapist, Menopause Expert and Wellbeing Consultant
“Every day I speak to women in various states of emotional distress due to their menopause symptoms and how those symptoms are affecting all aspects of their lives.”
Menopause: you might be imagining hot flushes, night sweats and irregular periods and in some cases, you would be right but in many they don’t feature at all. Most of these women speak of how they don’t know themselves any more, how they have lost their joy and how they feel like they are going mad.
I can truly empathise with each and every one, as in 2013, due to my own menopause experience, I came very close to taking my own life. At the time I had no idea about the psychological symptoms of menopause, why would I?
Menopause is of course a natural stage of life but one that nobody prepares us for and whilst the conversations have started in the last couple of years there is still a woeful lack of education, information, advice and support and therein lies the problem.
Being labelled as depressed when you know you aren’t can be frightening and very isolating.
The fluctuation of hormone levels
Anyone who has experienced pre-menstrual syndrome will be well aware of the emotional rollercoaster that fluctuating hormone levels can cause but, many women are simply not prepared for the variety and intensity of those symptoms as the hormone levels fluctuate, sometimes wildly, during menopause and then fall for the last time.
Psychological symptoms can include anxiety, panic, brain fog, irritability, mood swings and low self-esteem. The additional stress of not understanding what is happening can intensify all those feelings and the fear of admitting to any of them can make life feel very lonely.
Emotional health can also be impacted by the physical symptoms of menopause. Broken sleep, a common complaint, can wreak havoc with our energy and concentration levels, and this just adds to the stress. Whilst hot flushes in public can be embarrassing for some, it is often the very private increased urinary symptoms or vaginal dryness that can have such an impact on self esteem and our most intimate relationships with partners.
Menopause and mental health
In a recent BBC survey 48% of women said the menopause had a negative impact on their mental health and 70% said they did not speak to their employers about experiencing menopause symptoms. Many women fear being seen as less productive or even losing their jobs and those that leave the workplace can experience financial hardship and a further loss of self confidence.
All too often the mental and emotional symptoms of menopause are incorrectly diagnosed as depression and medicated with anti-depressants, which goes directly against the recommendation of the 2015 NICE guidelines. Being labelled as depressed when you know you aren’t can be frightening and very isolating.
The psychological impact of menopause cannot be underestimated. In 2017, the Office for National Statistics released the latest suicide figures, revealing the highest rate of suicide amongst women in the U.K is between the ages of 50 and 54, while the average age of menopause is 51.
Is this the ultimate hidden cost of a lack of menopause education, information, advice and support?
Information before the onset of the menopause
Not every woman will experience menopause symptoms. One on four will experience very few, but the same number will experience debilitating symptoms which severely affect their quality of life. The right information provided prior to the onset of menopause would offer every woman the opportunity to make informed decisions about how she chooses to navigate the menopause and support her own physical and mental health. Knowledge is power and the key to health and wellbeing for the next stage of life.