I recently listened to an episode of Woman’s Hour, featuring a piece on the menopause. It asked whether women who suffer from menopausal symptoms in the workplace suffer discrimination. Not only was it a fascinating episode, but I was also generally pleased to hear people speaking frankly about the menopause and how the associated symptoms can affect women’s wellbeing.
We’ve known for some time that there is a dip in wellbeing at midlife. Our Adult Psychiatric Morbidity data shows us that the highest rates common mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are in people aged 45 to 54 years. However, middle aged women fare worse than middle aged men; with almost a quarter of women (23%) in this age group having a common mental disorder compared with 14% of men.
Unfortunately we don’t really understand the reasons for the middle age dip in mental health. One theory is that these women are often sandwiched between caring for children and elderly parents. The Predictors of Wellbeing report, examined data from a number of national household surveys, and found that being both a carer and in middle age was predictive of poorer wellbeing. This report again evidenced the midlife dip in wellbeing, but went further by showing that the lull remains even after controlling for a wide range of significant social, environmental and economic factors.
So what is it about midlife that might place wellbeing at risk? For women at least, I wonder whether the experience of menopausal symptoms may account for some of it? Sadly, there is a complete lack of data on wellbeing and menopause, or menstruating in general. Why? Part of the reason is surely that it’s a social taboo, and not something we talk about openly. We’d like to help break that taboo and start building a solid evidence base, and that’s one of the reasons why questions on the experience of menopausal symptoms have been included in the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Study.
So, this Mental Health Awareness Week let’s start talking about the menopause and the impact it may have on women’s wellbeing.