December 11, 2015, by Emma Rayner

We need to talk about the menopause

The Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies has called on bosses to be more aware of the menopause and the problems it can cause for some women in the workplace. A chapter in her annual report ‘The Health of the 51%’ out today highlights the research of Amanda Griffiths, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology from Nottingham’s School of Medicine.

Dr Amanda Griffiths

Dr Amanda Griffiths

In Britain, nearly three quarters of women seek advice about menopausal symptoms and up to a quarter of women suffer symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disruption and fatigue. Although most women don’t have problems, some find that menopausal symptoms have an adverse effect on both their personal and working lives. Up to now, says Professor Griffiths, it’s been a problem largely overlooked by employers and covered up by many women who find it embarrassing and a taboo subject. Some have encountered criticism and ridicule about menopause from managers and colleagues.

There are more than 3.5 million working women aged between 50 and 65 in the UK, many of whom are in senior roles and at the peak of their careers. The report highlights a recent study of nearly 900 women, some of who listed poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory, feeling depressed and lowered confidence because of menopausal symptoms.

Professor Griffiths says: “We are delighted that the Chief Medical Officer has chosen to showcase this research in her annual report, ‘The Health of the 51%’, this year. The menopause affects half the population but historically the problems it can cause for some women have not been recognised or acknowledged in the workplace. Women who participated in this research told me how pleased they were that this subject was ‘at last’ receiving serious attention.

“We found that some women feel that their menopausal status opens them up to being stereotyped and prefer not to reveal age and gender-related matters at work. When they take sickness absence because of menopausal symptoms, they do not always divulge the real reason to their manager. But we also found that when women do disclose difficulties to co-workers and line managers, their subsequent support is highly valued.

“For this reason we recommend greater awareness among managers about the menopause as a potential occupational health issue. We would also encourage them to allow more flexibility of working hours and working arrangements. Being able to have a late start after a particularly poor night’s sleep, for example, can make big difference. Practical improvements like better access to formal and informal sources of support for women at work, and better regulation of workplace temperature and ventilation would also be valuable. These are all things that women told us would be helpful.”

The Chief Medical Officer’s report also calls for public health strategies which improve education and awareness of the menopause and it welcomes the recent NICE guidance on diagnosis and management. Importantly, the research of Professor Griffiths’ co-author, Professor Myra Hunter from Kings College London, highlights the need for doctors to be aware of alternative treatments to hormone replacement therapy. HRT is clearly helpful for some women with severe symptoms but some prefer not to use it, and for some it is not suitable. Psychological interventions, based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), can help women with a range of psychological and physical symptoms, the report says.

‘Psychosocial factors and the menopause: the impact of the menopause on personal and working life’, by Professor Amanda Griffiths from the Division of Psychiatry & Applied Psychology, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham and Professor Myra Hunter Professor from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, is available in the Chief Medical Officer’s full report here.

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