The menopause is probably one of the least talked about topics when it comes to mental wellbeing and wellbeing in general. Yet, it is one of the biggest and most impactful parts of life for half of the population, and something that can be really difficult to navigate, for those going through it and those around them. As a result, many women experience feelings of isolation, and it can prevent many from reaching out for help. The symptoms of the menopause can alter the mental health of a person drastically, let alone feeling like we have to experience it on our own. Read on to find out more about the link between the menopause and mental wellbeing, and what we can do to help.
A quick outline
The average age of menopause in women in the UK is 51. The reason being that oestrogen levels usually begin to decline around this age. It’s a natural part of ageing that happens between age 45-55 and symptoms usually last around 4 years from a woman’s last period. However, around 1 in every 10 women experience them for up to 12 years.
As with anything, each person will experience the menopause differently - some people don’t get any symptoms, while others’ symptoms are pretty severe.
Here’s some of the common symptoms of the menopause as outlined on the NHS website:
hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, which can make your skin red and sweaty
night sweats – hot flushes that occur at night
difficulty sleeping – this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day
problems with memory and concentration
vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
palpitations – heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
joint stiffness, aches and pains
reduced muscle mass
recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs
Mental wellness during the menopause
As mentioned above, one of the common symptoms is around mood changes, in particular low mood and feelings of anxiety, due to the hormone changes that occur. Another factor is that around the age a woman goes through menopause, there can often be many stressors going on in their life - many are still working, taking care of sick or elderly parents, caring for children or grandchildren, and navigating other difficult life changes.
All of these changes in the body can be not only difficult to deal with, but a huge shock too. It’s a very personal matter watching and feeling your body go through changes, and can sometimes feel difficult to open up to the people around us in fear that we might be misunderstood.
These feelings are normal. Try to remind yourself that many people around us will understand, as themselves or people they know will likely have had similar experiences - either going through menopause or having the same symptoms. Talking to people around us can help to ground us when feeling out of control or worried about things. It can also help us feel less alone and help us make sense of how we’re feeling and what we can do to help ourselves. It’s worth seeking out support within the community too, be it a support group or an online network of people’s experiences.
Self-help during the menopause
Research has highlighted that maintaining a nutritious diet, getting good quality sleep and regular exercise can help with the symptoms of the menopause - not to mention the positive impact these factors have on our mental wellbeing anyway. Combined, it would make sense that this could really help relieve both physical and mental side effects of menopause symptoms.
Things like meditation and yoga have also been shown to have a positive effect on the mind and body during this transition period. Take a further look into the benefits of yoga and meditation over on our blog - and try to have an open mind! Who knows, maybe it might really work for you.
The menopause can have a huge impact on a woman’s life, and it can be difficult to manage. So we need to keep working to break the stigma around women’s health in general, to allow women to feel more comfortable in seeking help if and when they need it, whether we’re at work, the GP or at home with family. Approach the topic with kindness and without judgement, to help women in your life (even yourself) feel supported in their health and wellbeing.
There is help available
A good place to start if you feel like you need extra support during menopause is to speak to your GP. They can help point you in the right direction for treatments based on the symptoms you are experiencing. It is also a good place to start to talk about what you are going through in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
HRT, or Hormone Replacement Therapy, is a treatment that can help relieve the symptoms of menopause by replacing the hormones that are at a lower level as you approach the menopause. Speaking to your GP can help to highlight the types of HRT that are available and give you more information about the treatment. Make a list of questions you might have to ask, always ask for all the information whether it’s further reading or resources that can help you to decide, and always remember you don’t have to make decisions on medication right there and then. Take you time to consider what might work for you.
CBT and Talking Therapies are also an option for those experiencing severe changes and difficulties with their mental health. Speaking to a mental health professional, and double points for one who specialises in the menopause or working with women, can give us space to vent and process the tough feelings we’re experiencing, they can help us figure what coping mechanisms help nad hinder us, and also help us feel heard when we’re going through something that can often make us feel the opposite. It’s worth considering talking therapies to navigate big life changes, whether we’re feeling ok mentally or not.
Final note: There is no shame in any part of the menopause. All women should feel comfortable opening up about their stories, their struggles and their experiences during this transition in their lives. Whether it’s a friend, someone at work, or a medical professional, there is always help and support available to us. It’s important to know how much the menopause can affect us - not only physically but mentally too, so we can begin to give ourselves the help we need to better cope and manage this stage of our lives.