I became interested in this topic for the simple reason that it started affecting me.
When I hit my fifties, my migraines, always a blight on my life, intensified. Because I didn’t suffer from any of the other menopause symptoms such as the classic hot flushes or night sweats that were about the extent of my knowledge of the menopause, I assumed that I either had something sinister wrong with me or that this was just something I had to suck up. Because this coincided with a major life change – the turmoil and upheaval of starting a completely new life as a Member of Parliament, I also put a lot of it down to stress and pure exhaustion. Frankly, I was somewhat in denial that menopause could be affecting me – I’d always prided myself on my resilience to almost every ailment and illness! It took me a long time to find out that migraines are connected with menopause and in the process, I realised that there is a need for this campaign.
During this journey I discovered a lot of things. The menopause, as one Instagram account puts it, (@hotflush – thanks!) is the “club no-one wants to join”. Because no-one wants to join it, no-one from the outside has a clue what is going on inside! But once you step over the threshold it’s clear that there is a fabulously supportive network of people and a ton of useful information. It is also clear that there are some major things not happening that should be.
As I started to reach out to women who are already active champions and professional experts in this space, I discovered some true horror stories. Successful women, at the peak of their careers, having to leave their jobs because they suffered from treatable side effects of menopause. Severe depression and anxiety at one end of the scale to the more well-known hot flushes, memory loss and tiredness that impairs normal functioning. Symptoms that affected their whole lives including relationships with partners and families. And a complete lack of empathy across workplaces and in society of this issue. How can this be happening in 2018?! I was appalled and staggered.
Governments of all colours, including I ‘m proud to say the one I’m part of, have made great strides across a huge range of social issues. Thankfully it is now normal to talk about mental health, to report the gender pay gap, to tackle violence against women and girls, to fight for equality, and to speak out against homophobia and all forms of hatred. But in all of this menopause seems the silent ghost. It’s nearly three decades since Gail Sheehy published “The Silent Passage”, the landmark work on menopause. I believe it’s time that this natural stage of life, that can mark the flowering of a productive and happy third age, should be better understood by policy makers.
We now live in a society where we need and often want to work well beyond our fifties and sixties. And businesses need talent right across the generations to make up the diverse workforce required to face the future. Women of menopausal age are perfectly positioned to contribute positively in all walks of life and all aspects of the public sphere. But they are sometimes being held back by adverse menopausal symptoms, and through lack of education, understanding and basic treatment that could help.
So, I am on a mission to bring this issue higher up the agenda of Government. I said in Parliament when I launched the campaign, that menopause is a natural stage of life that affects every woman and every man who lives with or works with a woman. I wondered, have there been lots of debates on menopause in Parliament when I’ve not been there? It seems not – because I checked Hansard and found just 24 mentions of it in the last 3 years, and those only in passing, not as a subject for a debate, until I mentioned it yesterday.
It could be argued that menopause affects every area of Government policy making – because government policy affects every woman! I’m sympathetic to that statement! To kick things off, I’m focusing my efforts on three defined areas. These are things that I believe are, or could be in time, achievable within Government. If we can make progress here, it will be transformative.
I’ve learned that modern forms of HRT can be incredibly helpful. What’s more, guidelines already exist to guide GPs and health professionals to prescribe the right treatment and care. But so often these aren’t being implemented. And outdated myths about HRT are still widespread. (Before I started this campaign I still had this lingering memory that HRT was bad because it was made from horse pee) I would like to push for best practice and understanding to be widespread. If you go to your GP as a menopausal woman, you shouldn’t be relying on pot luck whether or not you get one that understands menopause or not.
This is where there are some huge wins. I’ve already seen some brilliant work in workplaces that are actively signing up to be menopause -friendly. Shout out to West Midlands Police and the fantastic work they are doing! As an MP, I can push for my local public sector employers in my patch to adopt similar policies and training. And more widely, we can get this message out there, that just like having policies on mental health, caring, and shared parental leave, having policies on menopause can benefit your business bottom line because it keeps your employees happy and productive, when you’ve invested significant resource training them to do their jobs!
I do believe this should start early within the school curriculum. There are calls to look at and update the personal sex and health education curriculum (PSHE) to reflect new concerns of parents and teachers. This would be an opportunity to talk about menopause. As well as being taught about periods at the start of their reproductive life, girls and boys need to understand about later stages of life, how it can affect them in positive and negative ways.
As I continue this work I will update this site, so please look out for updates from me. You can get in touch with me here: www.rachelmaclean.co.uk/contact
I’m always delighted to connect with others who care about this issue, and to do what I can to highlight other concerns. So please drop me a line. I’m not an expert, I’m still learning, and so I welcome all input!
Thank you for reading this. I’m excited about the journey ahead!