Why menopause matters to all of us
Alex Cowman, Head of Wellbeing, talks about the impact of the menopause, support for LYPFT colleagues and the new Menopause Festival
Alex Cowman is Head of Wellbeing for the Trust. Here she talks about uncovering some painful truths about the lack of support for women (and men) struggling with menopause issues, and what she did about it – including co-organising the NHS’ first menopause festival.
Menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. It is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51.
There, that wasn’t too hard to read was it? However a lot of women (and men) find it hard to talk about menopause, let alone seek the help that they need for it.
The NHS employs 1.2 million people, of which over 76% are female, and this number continues to grow every year.
Finding the necessary support during this time can feel like a never-ending uphill struggle, and there is still a huge stigma attached to speaking out about some of the more difficult side-effects. Brain fog, tiredness, extreme anxiety, agitation and even depression, can lead to women questioning where they belong in the workforce, and some women have reported feeling as though they are no longer able to carry out their role, even if this is within a team that they have been a part of for years. A recent survey found that 80% of people say their workplaces have no policies or help in place, and 45% said they avoid speaking to GP due to feeling stigma.
At LYPFT we have a workforce of over 3,500 colleagues, and over 67% of these are women, with 39% of them aged 40 or above. I joined LYPFT in March 2021 as Head of Wellbeing. Just after I started my role, a colleague contacted me and very openly shared her struggle with the menopause, and the fact that she had found it extremely difficult to find any support. I decided to set up a monthly Menopause Support Group, and she kindly co-facilitated the first group with me.
It became clear early on that there were a lot of women who cannot go down the traditional path of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), due to past cancer diagnosis or other medical issues. So as well as supporting colleagues through their HRT journey, it was important to find a way to share information of what other support is available.
The menopause festival idea – an NHS first!
My wonderful colleagues from the Leeds Recovery College, Janette Ward and Paula Mercer (pictured with me at the top of this page) had been having similar discussions and were hoping to run an event specifically aimed at supporting women through the menopause.
And so the idea of the first NHS Menopause Festival was born.
This one day festival event took place in Leeds on Saturday 9 April. It was attended by over 350 people including a number of men looking to improve their understanding of how to be more supportive. Being the first event of its kind, we didn’t know how many people we’d get so we were bowled over when so many came, especially from as far away as Devon!
Download a copy of the complete Menopause Festival Programme
There were 27 different experts there on the day who ran stalls, hosted discussion groups, and ran focussed Q&A sessions, including the ‘Yorkshire menopause Doctor’ Ella Russell, Oncologist Dr Claire Macaulay, and GP Partner Dr Clare Spencer.
There were also stalls and discussion groups with a host of holistic wellbeing practitioners, ranging from sleep experts, to homeopathists, cannabidiol (CBD) experts, and nutritionists; all of whom were there to provide advice on how to cope better with the menopause and where to find help and support.
The full day event had a varied programme, including facilitated reflective spaces, Q&A’s about sex, sleep, symptom management, and HRT, and a range of activities from dance, to art, poetry, and yoga.
With a majority female workforce, all of whom will be impacted by the menopause at some point, we wanted to provide a wide range of support that people may not have known was available. With this in mind, we tried to make the day as varied as possible. As well as having expert speakers who work in the medical field and specialise in menopause, we also had reiki healers, sex experts, mindfulness coaches, nutritionists, herbalists, artists, photographers, poets, and authors.
Our aim was to give everyone who attended something that would help them, either personally or professionally, with plenty of information and ideas to take away (please see the section below on What is the Menopause for resources and links to websites).
On the day, we were delighted to welcome elected members from Leeds City Council, staff from the London Metropolitan Police as well as colleagues from several NHS trusts stretching from Devon to Sheffield, all of whom want to improve on the support that is available for their colleagues.
Some of the feedback that we received included “this needs to be regular, what a fantastic day, when is the next one, women need this, an incredible team, so many lightbulb moments”.
Our Trust’s purpose is ‘improving health, improving lives’. In our recently published People Plan one of our four ambitions focuses on ‘Looking After Our People’ with commitments to improving our menopause support offer for staff. Clearly, we are not alone.
Since 9 April, I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback but also by the appetite for more. We’re keen to build on what we’ve started by ensuring that menopause support for our staff is robust and holistic, so that nobody feels unable to have a conversation within work about how this is impacting them. In doing that, I hope we can help others across the country to do the same.
What is menopause?
The menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. Periods usually start to become less frequent over a few months or years before they stop altogether. Sometimes they can stop suddenly.
The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. But around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age. This is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.
Find out more about the menopause, including symptoms and treatment, on the NHS website.
Find out more about our expert clinicians:
Dr Ella Russell: the ‘Yorkshire Menopause Doctor’
Dr Russell specialises in supporting women who are transitioning through the perimenopause and who are post-menopausal. She provides evidence-based advice and treatment, empowering women to get the advice, support and expertise they need when they are deciding upon their treatment options. Find out more about Dr Russell and her work on her website.
Dr Claire Macaulay
Claire is an oncology doctor who treats people with breast cancer. She is also a self-confessed sex science geek who is passionate about supporting people to create the kind of sex life that is right for them. Throwing away ideas of what people “should” be doing, Claire concentrates on what is meaningful and nourishing to each individual. Find out more about Claire and her work.
Dr Clare Spencer
Clare is a registered menopause specialist, an NHS GP in Leeds and she co-founded the My Menopause Centre where she is Clinical Director. She is also a British Menopause Society trainer and is involved in educating GPs about the menopause transition through talks, lectures and seminars.