The menopause is a serious, physical condition which will impact half of the UK population at some point in their lives, yet remains grossly misunderstood. Women have suffered without adequate support for the menopause for decades, and for too long it has been overlooked in areas from healthcare, to the workplace and in policy.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is an effective medication to improve women’s health and wellbeing during this period in their lives, yet in England comes with a whopping price tag. Whilst HRT is free to prescribe in Wales and Scotland, in England many women are priced out of this medication. Women are also frequently misdiagnosed by medical professionals, with the symptoms of menopause often being mistaken for depression or anxiety. Women end up on antidepressants instead of the correct treatments simply because medical professions are not adequately trained to spot the symptoms of menopause.
A recent survey on menopause support revealed the shocking truth about training in medical schools. A staggering 41% of UK universities do not have compulsory menopause education on the curriculum. For a condition that affects half the population, it’s astounding that it is completely overlooked when training the people we all turn to for help, leading to wrong diagnoses and continued suffering for women.
This level of misunderstanding and lack of support is also found in the workplace, where women are left to suffer in silence because they are too scared or ashamed to speak to their employers. Research by Wellbeing of Women shows that around 900,000 women have quit their jobs due to the menopause. Without workplace support for women, symptoms of the menopause can lead to decreased productivity, a loss of confidence, taking time off work and leaving the workforce altogether.
Simple changes in the workplace such as flexible working hours, relaxed uniform policies and adaptations to the working environment could all have a huge difference on the effects of the menopause on women’s health and wellbeing, and support women to continue feeling comfortable and confident in work.
In June, Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East, was selected in the Private Members Bill Ballot. She chose to focus her Bill on the menopause, in particular asking the NHS in England to follow the lead set by the Welsh Labour Government in Wales and exempt HRT from NHS prescription charges. I am proud to support this campaign, and have been keenly following the Bill’s progressions through Parliament, with the second reading due at the end of October.
World Menopause Day falls on the 18th October this year, and is an important opportunity to spread as much awareness as possible about this condition, and the support options available. There will be a backbench debate in Parliament on this day, which I hope to speak in, to bring the struggles facing women going through menopause onto the Government’s agenda and call for policies that support research and treatment in the area of menopausal health.
The shame and stigma that has faced women for decades around menopause cannot go on, we need to change the narrative around menopause and give women a voice. Education is key to achieving a change in attitude, starting in the school curriculum, making teaching the menopause compulsory on the curriculum in medical schools and creating public health messaging that aims to break the stigma and get people talking about menopause.