Documentary highlights menopause in the workplace

Documentary highlights menopause in the workplace

A recent Channel 4 documentary featuring Davina McCall has shone a new spotlight on the impact of menopause in the workplace on working women.

As the programme shows, the importance of early treatment cannot be overstated. Perimenopause can start 10-15 years before women start missing their periods, and can cause symptoms like hot flushes, brain fog and mood swings.

Although we associate menopause with the ovaries and changes to a woman’s menstrual cycle, new research shows some of the worst side effects are on women’s brains during this time period. Oestrogen regulates brain activity; brain energy drops an average of 25% during menopause when oestrogen levels decline. This causes neurons to age faster, and a restructuring within women’s brains. Traditionally, doctors have prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause, but by then it is too late: the brain has already been rewired. Scientists speculate that this rewiring may be behind women’s higher rates of dementia. Clearly, early treatment for perimenopause is key, and for many women, relief is nearly immediate.

Unfortunately, for many women HRT is not an option. For women who have had some types of cancer, HRT could cause a recurrence. Other treatments options include exercise, good nutrition and managing stress.

Many women experience (peri) menopause at the peak of their careers. A lack of access to proper treatment is a tragedy for these women, many of whom, unable to manage their symptoms, will needlessly drop out of the workforce, or not rise as high as they might otherwise. There is no legislation which directly mentions menopause in the workplace, although case law indicates in certain circumstances it can be considered a disability. Symptoms can in some cases be severe and incredibly disruptive: an inability to sleep or think clearly; mood swings from rage to depression; even incontinence. It is mind-boggling that so many women are managing these without help or treatment for perimenopause and menopause.

Lack of awareness is the crux of the issue. Many women think menopause starts with changes in their menstrual cycle. Because they’re not missing their periods, they may think they are going mad when they experience the less well-known symptoms. Likewise, HR departments unaware of menopausal symptoms may see a suddenly moody troublesome employee, rather than someone with a very normal and manageable health condition.

It can only be a good thing that so much light is now being shed on perimenopause and menopause. Normalising discussion around the symptoms and impacts that women experience, including menopause in the workplace, will help everyone.  It’s a tragedy that something that affects half the population has been treated as something to be hidden or embarrassed about for so long. 

This blog was written by Kendal Youngblood, Solicitor at didlaw.