Menopausal women lack basic support, landmark survey finds

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Eight in 10 respondents in the largest survey of menopausal women in the UK said their workplace had no basic support in place and 41% said menopause symptoms were treated as a joke by colleagues.

The landmark study found menopausal women were being ignored in the workplace and by healthcare providers, with a third saying it took many GP appointments before they were diagnosed with menopause or perimenopause. This rose to 45% for black and minoritised women.

The findings were revealed in a report by the Fawcett Society, based on a survey of more than 4,000 women commissioned by Channel 4 for a documentary by Davina McCall.

Of those surveyed, 44% said their ability to work had been affected by their symptoms, but the majority said their workplace had no support networks (79%), no absence policies (81%) and no information sharing with staff (79%).

Other findings include 22% of disabled women leaving jobs due to their symptoms, compared with 9% of non-disabled women. Many women said they had taken time off due to menopause, but 39% cited anxiety or depression as the reason, rather than sharing their menopause status.

“Menopausal women are experiencing unnecessary misery and it’s a national scandal,” said Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society. “For too long, menopause has been shrouded in stigma. We need to break the culture of silence and ensure menopausal women are treated with the dignity and support they deserve instead of being expected to just get on with it.”

Official guidance states hormone replacement therapy (HRT) should be offered to women struggling with menopause symptoms, but there have been acute shortages of some HRT products and demand is expected to rise.

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The survey found 39% of women said their GP or nurse offered HRT as soon as they knew they were experiencing menopause, but only 14% of menopausal women said they were currently taking HRT.

The majority of women (77%) reported at least one menopause symptom they found “very difficult”, while 44% of women said they experienced three or more symptoms of that severity. The most commonly reported symptoms were difficulty sleeping (84%), brain fog (73%) and anxiety or depression (69%).

Almost half (45%) of respondents said they hadn’t spoken to their GP surgery about their symptoms due to stigma around the issue.

“Too often menopause symptoms have been dismissed as a joke and HRT has been labelled a lifestyle drug,” said Olchawski. “Faced with that misinformation, is it a wonder that only half of women are even seeking help from their GP?

“The government needs to make urgent changes, from requiring employers to have menopause action plans, to creating a route into menopause healthcare, to ensuring that GPs are adequately trained to spot menopause symptoms.”

Recommendations in the report included implementing a public information campaign, with 87% of menopausal women agreeing that all women in their 40s or 50s should be sent a list of menopause symptoms by the NHS.

It also suggested every woman in her 40s or 50s should be invited to speak with her GP about menopause and GPs should receive mandatory training to help earlier diagnosis.

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